Opportunities for flexible working in education have traditionally been few and far between. When the children are in the classroom, their teachers have to be too.
However, that doesn’t mean flexible working options should be completely off-limits to schools.
Since the UK government launched its consultation, Making Flexible Working the Default, aimed at giving people greater flexibility in their workplace, schools are increasingly looking at how to accommodate flexible working requests from staff.
We’ve been speaking to two headteachers, both from a primary and secondary school setting, introducing more flexible working options into the school timetable while focusing on what’s best for the pupils. Below are three suggestions that have helped them provide more flexibility for staff in their schools.
1. Create Opportunities for Flexible Teaching Cover
Scheduling a secondary school timetable is fraught with complexity, and it’s hard to factor in flexible working for individual staff members. However, if some of your teachers can teach more than one subject, it can open up many opportunities for staff to cover for colleagues.
Mike Applewhite, secondary school headteacher of William de Ferrers School says, “We consider flexibility when we’re recruiting teachers. We now ask people as a matter of course what other subjects they might be able to teach.”
“One of our modern foreign languages teachers was really excited about also teaching geography. Naturally, we plan these lessons carefully and make sure nobody is overloaded.”
Many teachers have more than one string to their bow, which they would be happy to share. If they can teach additional subjects, it’s a practical way to build flexibility into your timetable.
2. Factor in Flexible Working Through a Job Share Partnership
One way primary schools have been able to embed flexible working into their timetable is through job sharing. Still, it’s an approach that has to be handled carefully to ensure children receive the continuity of teaching that a single staff member provides.
When they are done well, job shares can be hugely valuable for teaching and learning and provide opportunities for flexible working. Marie Staley, primary school headteacher of Moulsham Junior School, explains.
“We aim to marry up teachers’ strengths and skills in a job share partnership. For example, one of my current job share teachers is really creative and artistic, the other is very knowledgeable in science and technology. The teachers complement each other with their deep subject knowledge, which is great for the pupils. Job shares are remarkably effective when the communication is clear, and the teachers share specialisms and passions. The children really benefit.”
Marie continues, “I tend to have my job share teachers working with my job share heads of year too, so there is a broad appreciation and an understanding of the challenges involved.”
3. Give Teachers the Flexibility to Manage Their Own Time
Making a few changes to the timetabling of meetings and teachers’ planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time can introduce much-needed flexibility into the school day.
Marie explains how this works at her primary school. “We plan our professional development meetings for the whole term, and we ensure they’re succinct and focused. We also keep two of those sessions free, so a group of teachers might go off and do an activity together, or they might choose to go home early to walk the dog or meet a friend for coffee.”
“All our staff are able to take their PPA time at home,” adds Marie. “They can choose to do a supermarket shop on a Wednesday afternoon and save their planning for Sunday morning if that works better for them. Everyone can manage their time as a professional.”
Mike agrees it’s important for staff to develop solutions for flexible options rather than the leadership team making the decisions.
“This year, we continued with online parents’ evenings, which was a suggestion that came from staff,” says Mike. “We have also arranged our inset day for just before half term. By starting early and finishing early, everyone gains some extra time, which is good for wellbeing.
“Our philosophy is that we welcome flexible working when everything is focused on what’s best for the children.”
It’s inspiring to see how schools build flexibility into their day and give staff an active role in identifying possibilities for flexible working. With some fresh thinking, schools can find creative new ways for teachers’ professional lives to working in closer harmony with their home lives.
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Learn more about how our education HR team can help, including support on flexible working policies for your school. Visit our Catalyst People page here.