How could flexible working look in your school?

illustration of a worker balancing

Enabling flexible working could help schools retain staff who might otherwise leave the role, or retire early.

What are the benefits of flexbile working?

One survey across industries, found that 76% of employers felt that implementing flexible working has a positive impact on staff retention. Flexible working may offer development opportunities for existing staff – for example, through a part-time job share of a leadership role. Supporting and facilitating this flexible working practice has been reported as a strategy used by some employers to try and help reduce their gender pay gap. It can also allow teachers to better manage their work-life balance and improve their wellbeing, also helping to reduce ill-health absence, or enable a quicker return to work after maternity leave. Enabling flexible working could also help in forward planning for workforce changes in schools, especially in relation to succession planning.

An increasing proportion of teachers are working part-time. The proportion of men in teaching doing so in 2018 was nine per cent, compared with an average for all UK employees of 13%, while the proportion of women doing so was 29%, compared with 41%. With the changing demands of workers in our 21st century economy, it is more important than ever that teaching is compatible with family life – and work life balance more broadly – in order to be attractive to aspiring, current and inactive teachers.

How could job-sharing work?

Sue Harte, headteacher at John Stainer School, has implemented job-sharing in her school. “Requests for flexible working may well come out of informal conversations about a member of staff’s future – for example, if they become pregnant. Or, it could be part of their performance management conversation where they might discuss what they want to aspire to in the next few years.

“For example, one of our teachers is an aspiring artist. He wanted to work part time so that he had more time to paint. We have an open and honest dialogue about any flexible working requests, looking at impact, feasibility, and how we might plan ahead. We consider both their needs, and how it can work practically in the school. I think about staffing for the following academic year around May-to-June.”

As well as benefiting staff, it also benefits the school. “Strong teachers are attracted to our school because we are prepared to be flexible. We have explicitly advertised for new partners to join an existing job share, and we have gained a number of teachers who were attracted by our reputation for flexibility,” says Sue. “We had a lot of interest in our teacher vacancies this year, and being flexible also means we have very good staff retention as we are able to accommodate changes in family circumstances, which means teachers can look after their children and work part time.

“The parents are used to the children having more than one teacher. They know that it works well because their children are happy, and the results are consistently good.”

Case study: White Meadow Primary School

White Meadows, in Littlehampton, West Sussex, has used flexible working to recruit and keep high-calibre staff, supporting the school’s path from special measures to a ‘good’ Ofsted rating. Over the last eight years, leaders at White Meadows have used flexible working to attract and keep a group of passionate, resilient teachers who relish the challenges of their roles, and are prepared to go the extra mile to support their pupils.

The drive for flexible working was initially led by the school’s headteacher (now its executive head), who set out to create a culture in which people’s lives did not take second place to their jobs. In practice, this meant taking the approach that they would try to accommodate flexible working requests, for whatever reason. So, how did they do it?

Leading from the top

The school’s leadership team openly champions flexible working; for example, the current headteacher worked a four-day week in her previous role as the school’s deputy headteacher. As a result, staff are confident that they can be honest about their need for flexible working.

Taking a proactive approach

Staff who are due to take maternity leave are asked about their return plans before they go, giving the school time to work out the best way to accommodate their wishes. Flexible staff are celebrated, not tolerated. Candidates are told about the flexible approach during their tours of the school.

Taking time and care with job design

Leaders work hard to match part-time roles and partnerships with staff needs and personalities, as well as the needs of pupils.

Championing the benefits

Leaders are open about how the school benefits from flexible working. For example, they are positive with staff and parents about how job shares provide a ‘fresh’ teacher part-way through the week, as well as providing some pupils with a mid-week chance to start again. As a result, parents are generally supportive.

Making the most of staff members’ outside interests

One part-time teacher runs the education unit in a local museum for the rest of her working week. As a result, the school has built strong links with the museum and asked the teacher to use her experience to write the school’s history curriculum.

Being flexible about flexible working

Leaders are careful not to assume that staff will work outside of their part-time arrangements. For example, if staff attend inset days on their scheduled day off, they are given the time back. Staff are allocated three days’ personal leave to allow them to attend their own children’s school events, or take care of other personal priorities.

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