That the Department for Education recently held a summit on flexible working suggests that they may finally be acknowledging that recruitment and retention is an issue. Of course, nothing the DfE recommends will actually happen in schools unless headteachers make it happen. So, one more thing to place at our feet.
However, I’m a huge fan of flexible working. Most frequently we think of this as women returning from maternity leave wishing to go part time; but it is so much more than this. All genders and all ages often wish for more time to care for dependants – and why wouldn’t we support these intentions as family-friendly values driven employers?
Is it simply that part-time work is seen as a bit of a faff? Many part-timers have had comments directed at them about being a “hobby teacher” or “pretend” which is appalling. By going part-time some are no longer allocated their own class, usually because “parents won’t like it.” As headteachers it is our duty to challenge when heard and also to check ourselves for unconscious bias.
Another worrying practice is not allowing part-timers to keep their TLRs or remain a senior leader. This is absurd. As a headteacher I have welcomed senior leaders going part-time as it enabled me to internally promote to job-share their leadership role. I’ve done the same thing with TLR holders – the additional payment is job-shared, along with the responsibility. The more established member of staff mentors their partner and very quickly you have additional capacity. You ae making people happy.
Of course – one criticism levelled at flexible working is that many ask to go part-time as they would rather sacrifice pay to cope with workload. I’ve known of one newly married man ask to work four days so he didn’t have to work during evenings and weekends, time he’d rather spend with his wife. And I have heard of countless women who have made similar decisions to spend time with their children. I categorically agree with Dr Rebecca Allen when she insists that we have to make the job doable within the normal working day. A good deal of that does lie in our hands; but we need money, we need fewer insane examination and assessment changes, and for the DfE, Ofsted and RSCs to simply stop demanding we do more.
However, many are seeking more flexible arrangements to pursue other interests and passions – internships in CERN, participation in sporting events, round the world travel, palliative home-care for ill relatives, special constables and the territorials. Even sabbaticals to write.
Often you’ll gain more than you sacrifice. After she had been teaching for five years, my friend Ruth requested a sabbatical from her Science teaching job to spend three months in the South Pacific participating in marine research. She was fairly astounded when it was granted and had supposed she would have to choose between losing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or her beloved job.
By granting Ruth her sabbatical they ultimately kept a very good Science teacher. The school had time to recruit a good quality temporary teacher who proved so good that they kept him on permanently. In addition, Ruth ‘skyped’ the school regularly, sharing her love of science, making it real for these inner-city kids and inspiring some to pursue the career in time.
It is an absolute myth that the best employees are working full-time. By bending with the wind a little, by embracing flexible working, we may be slightly inconvenienced and we may have to deal with some naysayers, but we will keep brilliant people that will otherwise be lost. We will gain far more than we lose.