Part-time teachers – Stop insisting on full-time contracts

We must stop insisting that all teachers be shackled to a full-time contract in a misguided attempt at conformity

Kevin Harcombe
by Kevin Harcombe
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When I started at my current school back in the 20th century there were only two part-time teachers, job sharing in one class.

I regarded this with a little suspicion and felt – as did many of my headteacher colleagues – that it was both an outlandish administrative inconvenience and sub-optimal for the children. The kids had a right to one massively stressed teacher five days a week, for goodness’ sake.

I thought this despite the fact that both were (and remain) knowledgeable, skilled and extremely hard-working professionals.

That was simply the received wisdom, i.e. prejudice, at the turn of this century. Cut to 2023 and nearly half of all the classes in my school are staffed by part-timers.

So what happened in the intervening couple of decades?  

Teacher work-life balance

A pandemic for one. Economists refer to the phenomenon of people quitting jobs during or just after the lockdowns as ‘The Great Retirement’.

‘The Great Reduced Hours’ isn’t quite as snappy or dramatic but is just as significant.

When the whole of the globe goes through something as traumatic as lockdown amid the fear (misplaced or not) of imminent death, people re-evaluate what is important to them and, unsurprisingly, work comes way down the list of good ways of spending your allotted three score years and ten.

Of course, we all have to eat and have somewhere to live so need to earn cash, but full-time working is not as important to most people as, well, having a life.

No one lies on their deathbed thinking, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’.

They just don’t, no matter how much some politicians and newspapers urge us to slave away into our seventies.

If you can get by on less money and increase your me-time, then why wouldn’t you?  

Teacher recruitment crisis

Another reason for this flurry of part-time workers? A continuing recruitment and retention crisis.

The supply of teaching assistants has already dried up completely; supermarkets pay better, and you don’t need to teach turgid phonics schemes, do playground duty or, in most branches, wipe bottoms.

Teacher supply is heading the same way, with government targets for teacher training falling markedly short year after year.

And even if they do the training and qualify, research in 2020 found that an astonishing four in 10 teachers leave within five years of getting started.

And one in five leave after just two years, often citing excessive workload.

How much better to enable a better work-life balance through part-time working (which may include occasional later starts and earlier finishes to accommodate ruinously costly childcare arrangements) than to lose skilled staff with further potential for development and excellence.

Having two teachers job share is better than having no teacher at all – obvs! – and often much, much better.

Even if the pipeline of teacher supply weren’t clogged up with the sludge of burdensome bureaucracy and the increasingly unrealistic demands of parents, and you actually had a choice of whom to employ, frankly, it makes sense to retain a great teacher for two or three days a week rather than take on an okay teacher for five.  

Part-time teachers

The naysayers might grudgingly agree that part-time is just about ok for teachers but never for senior leaders.

Why this should be the case I have no idea, apart from ‘we’ve always done it that way so why change?’

Logic insists it is perfectly possible to have a highly effective, indeed outstanding, management team staffed by part-timers if those part-timers are of sufficient quality.

Aren’t executive heads effectively part-time in their groups of schools?   

So, what’s actually in it for the school? Nearly all part-timers work more than their contracts.

I know this because they tell me. Regularly.

Wellbeing for those staff members goes up (as do energy levels) and stress and sickness come down.

Children get two different subject specialists, who are also occasionally available (though not contractually) to cover sickness absence.  

The phrase ‘part-timer’ is still used across society as an insult; a synonym for ‘uncommitted’ or ‘slacker’.

Let us rebuff this derogatory misconception, cast off the chains of full-time wage slavery and embrace a new future; PART-TIMERS OF THE WORLD UNITE! (But only Mondays to Wednesdays.) 

Kevin Harcombe is a Teaching Awards winner and headteacher at Redlands Primary, Fareham. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevharcombe 

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