When the National Education Union asked teachers in maintained schools, independent schools and sixth forms colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to share their experiences of working part time in a survey this spring, more than 2,000 had responded within days.
It found that one of the main reasons for choosing part-time working is so members can manage their workload – with many using their supposed non-work days for marking, planning and assessment so they can avoid working during evenings and weekends.
More than 60% said they work reduced hours for caring responsibilities, including looking after children, while, at the same time, for 43% of respondents working part time was based on a need to manage excessive workload.
Just under half (49%) of members said they are on a 0.6 contract, equivalent to three days a week; 15% were on a 0.5 contract, and 17% were on a 0.4 contract. A third (34%) said they work between eight and 14 hours above their contracted hours each week in term time, while 39% work between three and seven hours extra, and 15% of respondents work more than 14 hours extra a week.
A teacher based in the north east said: “I was a senior leader, and had been for over 20 years, until October 2017, when I chose to give up my TLR, as I was working so many extra hours for so little extra pay. I'm fed up of neglecting my own family, having to tell my young family I can't help them with their homework, as I'm too busy dedicating my time to other people's children.
“I'm contracted to work 2.5 days a week. On my 2.5 days ‘off’, I work these too, completing planning, marking and assessments, as well as policy-writing and other paperwork. Marking one set of books for my class of 30 Year 4s takes over five hours by the time I have cross-referenced each piece of work with success criteria. I'm totally fed up. I cannot sustain this for much longer. The teaching profession is about to lose another member.”
Another member, a 39-year-old Year 2 teacher at a school near Oxford said: “I work for three days. On the other two, I work non-paid for the whole time my children are at school. This allows me to not work on the weekends, but it is disheartening that I have to do this. The workload is ever increasing as teaching assistants are laid off and the senior leadership team who leave are not replaced. Their responsibilities are shared among us with no pay or release time offered.”
Paying for free time
National Education Union policy adviser Suzanne Beckley, who conducted the survey, said: “A third are working between eight and 14 hours over their paid hours – that’s one to two whole extra days. By taking a cut in their salary, they’re effectively paying to get some free time back. Meanwhile, we know full-time teachers are having to work those extra hours on top of a five-day working week.”
As one member told us: “It's been the only way to survive in teaching. I love what I do and had to make a compromise to have a work-life balance.”
“I am paid part time but to all intents and purposes I work full time,” another explained, while another said: “I feel I'm doing a full-time job on part-time hours, but at least this way I get to see my child for some part of the weekend.”
Concerned members from the ATL section’s inner London branch brought a motion to Annual Conference in April, carried unanimously, which noted this trend and called on the union to lobby the Government to take action so education staff can have a better work-life balance.
The survey also found that almost half (49%) of part-time workers are expected to attend meetings, parents’ evenings or other events during non-working time with the time not given back, while 18% had the time given back. In contrast, a third (32%) said there is no expectation for this at their school. Unpaid periods of ‘trapped’ time between working sessions affected 15% of members in the survey.
Negative attitudes towards part-time working
Many members also described the negative attitudes they experience and towards part-time working in general. One in five said part-time working is spoken of negatively by management, and 60% said it is “tolerated”, while only 13% said it is actively promoted to existing staff. Almost a third (30%) told us they had to find a new job because they could not get part-time hours where they had been working.
“There needs to be more incentive for schools to employ part-timers,” one member commented. “The problem is job-shares are more expensive as we really need overlap time and we should be invited and paid to attend all INSET. Schools are poor - they can't justify this, so we end up working for free! I got told last week the school cannot afford to pay me to come to parents evening, so I spent six hours doing appointments for free.
“I was management (with a TLR) before my first child. I couldn't believe how differently I was treated when I returned - I got taken off the senior leadership team, I was told I could no longer do appraisals of my team, decisions were made without me - the list goes on.”
More than three quarters of respondents (77%) told us they did not want to apply for a promotion while working part time, and third (32%) had not progressed on the main or upper pay scale. This supports the findings of the National Education Union’s 2017 pay survey, in which a third (34%) of part-time workers were denied progression – compared to less than a fifth (17%) or full-time respondents. And, while 26% of classroom teachers work part time, only 12% of assistant heads, nine per cent of deputy heads and five per cent of headteachers do.
One member said: “Part-time workers are treated as inferior to full-time workers. I have had responsibilities taken away, as they were not deemed able to lead on a part-time basis, partly because senior leadership meetings are held on a day on which I do not work. The head is not keen on part-time working.”
Leaving the profession
There are likely to be many more – not reflected in the survey – who have simply chosen to leave the profession altogether because of the difficulties of part-time working, at a time when even the Government has recognised the recruitment crisis facing the education sector.
Hannah Digby told us: “There are many working parents who have left the profession as the only option they were given was full time. With the great recruitment crisis looming surely it is better to have quality teachers part-time than rubbish ones or none at all?”
Another member told us: “I have seen many fantastic teachers leave the profession after having a child because their requests for part-time hours have been refused. I think there is a fear part-time staff won’t work as hard or it will be disruptive for pupils. The teachers I know who have been given part-time contracts are assets to their schools. They work hard and add well-needed experience.”
However, other members spoke of more positive experiences. One said: “My school have been brilliant with offering part-time roles. When I first went back to work after maternity leave, I was part of a class-share, but I was then offered curriculum lead. I know this isn't the experience of everyone working part time.”
Another told us: “My school tries hard to give people the hours they want. Before I worked at my current school, I worked at another school three days a week. I could not manage the workload, as I was working six days a week and three hours in evenings after school, and had a toddler. I had a breakdown and management at the school were very unsupportive.
“I left for health reasons, saying I would never go back into teaching. However, I saw a two-day-a-week post advertised and got the job. I absolutely love my job, we work as a team and the workload is very fair. My school has made me love teaching again, as I realised not all schools are the same. I feel very lucky to be working where I am.”
Government figures on the education workforce show that in 2016, part-teachers made up just under a quarter of the total teacher headcount, up from 21% in 2010. While 26% of classroom teachers work part time, only 12% of assistant heads, nine per cent of deputy heads and five per cent of headteachers work part time.
Gender split of part-time workers
Of the 109,200 part-time qualified teachers in state-funded schools in November 2016, 92% were female, compared 76% of qualified teachers on all contracts in state-funded schools. The figures also show that part-time working is more common in primary than secondary schools, and that the rate of part-time working is significantly lower in sponsored academies and free schools than in local authority-maintained schools or converter academies, whether primary or secondary.
“Flexibility in work is an issue for men and women but our figures show that this remains disproportionately an issue for female teachers, who are much more like to have to adapt their work patterns to care for children and older relatives, and bear the brunt financially for doing so,” says Beckley.
“Unfortunately, this seems to have a detrimental impact on their careers in the long-term, as they are often seen as not committed to the job. For a profession that depends heavily on women, this is quite frankly, scandalous. More flexibility for all would have so many knock-on positives for the profession.”
Late last year, the Department for Education published non-statutory guidance on flexible working. Beckley believes the guidance is “quite good in in itself, but it is only guidance”. She adds: “At the same time, they’re giving schools autonomy, how can they then say you’ve got to let everyone work flexibly if they want to?
“It is also important that we see the profession become even more flexible. A lot of what members tell us they want, particularly if they have school-age children, is to be able to drop them off or pick them up now and again.”
The Government must do more on flexible working in the sector, she says. “What we’re seeing are many of the same issues that affect all education professionals, such as workload, the impact of the accountability system, and the need for adequate funding so schools and colleges have enough staff. But ensuring a better attitude towards part-time working, and respect for the hours of part-time staff, would go some way to helping ease the recruitment and retention crisis."
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