With more than 80% of teachers considering leaving the profession due to workload pressure, according to a recent National Education Union (NEU) report, reducing stress and encouraging greater work-life balance is key. Caroline Cafferty, operations director at justteachers, speaks with Dahlia Al-Sarraj, a teacher in a job share at Nessfield Primary School, West Yorkshire, about flexible working conditions and why senior leaders should consider it
Alongside retention challenges, many schools are also struggling to recruit. According to a 2017 National Audit Office report, Retaining and developing the teaching workforce, schools filled just half of their vacancies with teachers who have the experience and expertise required and, in around one tenth of cases, failed to fill their posts. By offering a better work-life balance, senior leadership teams (SLTs) can benefit from improved staff relations and, potentially, retain highly motivated teachers.
Flexible working conditions
Flexible working conditions, such as job shares, provide teachers with an opportunity to continue their career in teaching without forfeiting a healthy work-life balance. Ultimately, they are a solution that can be offered by SLTs to attract new job applications, as well as keeping experienced teachers in the profession.
For example, after three years working as a full-time teacher – just like the 81% of teachers identified in the latest NEU workload survey of 8,173 teachers – Dahlia Al-Sarraj contemplated leaving the profession, a consideration she attributes to an unsustainable workload, long hours and poor work-life balance. Dahlia was placed earlier this year using Flexi – which matches two similarly skilled teachers to one full-time role – and is now working three days per week, sharing a key stage 2 class with another colleague; she credits her job share role with keeping her in the profession.
“I was seeking a better work-life balance. When I was working full-time I was working extremely long hours – I would leave the house at 7.30am and get home at 7.00pm; it was just not sustainable at all,” Dahlia says. “I also felt like I didn’t see my family for a very long time; I was always doing extra work during the weeknights and on the weekends.
“I did consider leaving the profession but then the opportunity arose for me to take on the Flexi job share, and I’ve fallen back in love with teaching; it’s changed my mind completely.”
Striking the work-life balance
As well as improved work-life balance and a reduced workload, job sharing also provides teachers with an increased opportunity to work collaboratively and support each other. Dahlia, who has now worked in the role for six months, highlights collaboration, communication, aligned teaching styles and open-mindedness as the key qualities required for a successful job share.
“My job share partner and I both have similar teaching styles so the children still have that continuity throughout the week which has helped them settle quite quickly to being taught by both of us,” she explains. “We keep in contact through email and text and we also have a contact book so anything noteworthy that happens on my days, such as communication with parents or incidents in class, I’ll write in the book and vice versa. There’s constant and ongoing communication between the two of us.
“Lastly, it’s important to be open-minded. We are both very open to other ideas – if I go back on one of my teaching days and there’s a note that seating plans have been changed, that’s absolutely fine. Being open to change is really important and it also shows the children that we’re working together as one.”
Offering more flexible working conditions, such as a job share, is just one effective solution to combat ongoing teacher shortages throughout England – an option for which Dahlia is a strong advocate. “The way teaching is going I think this is going to be the way forward. It’s just not sustainable for one person to take a class with the amount of work that needs to be done. There aren’t that many part-time teachers at the moment, but I think in future we will see a lot more,” she says.