Flexible working for teachers
Great to see the Secretary of State put flexible working for teachers in the spotlight as part of his teacher Recruitment and Retention strategy and I am sure a ‘matching’ service for teachers wanting to job share will be very useful.
However, the challenges and opportunities for flexible working in our sector are much greater than this and will require a significant cultural shift led by school leaders themselves.
‘Timewise’ are the leading campaigners on flexible working in the UK and I am delighted to work with them as a member of their Innovation Unit, looking at how we can encourage flexibility in those parts of the economy where it is hard to deliver at the moment due to the demands of the job; this includes nursing, retail, leisure and teaching. At United Learning we are committed to delivering better flexible working opportunities for all our staff.
Timewise define flexible working as made up of three components:
- Where you do the work e.g. homeworking
- When you do the work, such as compressed hours, term time only, late starts, early finishes
- How Much which might include job share or part time hours
For a classroom teacher the ‘where’ and the ‘when’ present obvious challenges; you need to be in school in front of your class. As a result, we tend to focus more on the ‘how much’ question hence the current focus on job share.
There is no doubt that job sharing and part time working for teachers need to be promoted, extended and supported across our sector. My own son has been taught but job sharers at infant school and now in a junior school his teacher works a 4-day week and the school timetables specialist teaching and other lessons on the 5th day. It is all doable with the right will to make it work.
Really progressive schools have the expectation that most members of staff will want to work flexibly in some way and are looking at the opportunities around the ‘Where’ and ‘When’ alongside the ‘How Much.’ Making sure flexible working is a key part of timetabling reviews. Allowing some working from home, for PPA, report writing or CPD, for example. Enabling teachers to work compressed hours in a 4-day week. Allowing some late starts so they can take their own children to school or early finishes so they can pick them up. Making sure the school day finishes at 5pm and evening meetings are not a regular feature of the school calendar. And there is a whole host of informal support a school can offer such as time off for staff to attend important events such as their own child’s school play.
We must also ensure we focus on flexibility in school leadership as we are still some way of from gender equality in our sector and it is poor that schools have one of the worst reported Gender Pay Gaps in the UK economy. This is predominately due to two factors; more women than men working in part time support staff roles and fewer women than men in school leadership which is particularly stark at Secondary phase. If we are to promote flexible working for classroom teachers, we need to role model this from the top and promote it for Headteachers, Deputies and all those in school leadership too. I have known very successful Headteachers who work a 4-day week or job share for example. The ‘Where’ and the ‘When’ of flexibility can be explored for those in leadership roles in addition to the ‘How Much.’
I support the DfE work in this area, they are working hard to promote and educate on this important issue. Yet it is down to us working in the sector to deliver this cultural revolution. We need to modernise schools to become great places to work. If you are interested check out my book ‘Talent Architects; how to make your school a great place to work.’ This has guidance and support on introducing flexible working along with other practical strategies to help your school become a great employer.