As the world has come to terms with the impact of the pandemic, one topic that keeps cropping up in the news headlines is flexible work. Across a variety of industries, countless employees have been able to redefine how, where and when they work, in order to protect their wellbeing and to make work fit around their personal lives better.
However, education doesn’t stand out as a natural candidate for flexible work. After all, the timings of the school day and the timetable are clearly defined; if the children are in school to be taught, the teacher needs to be there to teach them. Despite this, there are ways in which flexibility can be built into the school day, and it’s time for schools to respond to the increased demand for flexible work options.
We’ve found that an increasing number of teachers are asking for more choice around their work, including job-sharing, part-time hours and even conducting their planning, preparation and assessment duties at home where possible. In this blog, we’ll explore how you can facilitate these options for your staff, without compromising on timetabling or educational outcomes.
Effective time management
This might sound overly simplistic, but timetabling in periods of time for employees to do certain things – whether they’re work-related or not – can make a big difference to how they feel about their jobs.
This could be setting aside time to complete PPA (at home or at school), ensuring time is blocked out for a medical appointment or other important commitment, and even keeping an hour free to complete the weekly food shop. Marie Staley, headteacher of Moulsham Junior School, highlighted in our recent webinar: “All our staff are able to take their PPA time at home. 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.”
This may require a slightly different approach to timetabling, but it’s one that can pay significant dividends for everyone concerned in the long run. Schools should start by auditing their current timetabling process, and then integrate new periods such as work-from-anywhere days, along with the ability for staff to take full days off without damaging the smooth running of the timetable.
Defined flexibility in job descriptions
Schools shouldn’t just consider how flexibility can be beneficial to existing staff: they should also factor in how attractive it can be when trying to recruit new talent, too.
In our recent webinar, Mike Applewhite from William de Ferrers School explained that he has started to broaden job descriptions when hiring new staff, so that they can be deployed more flexibly. Not only does this help schools cover subjects or areas where they may be short-staffed, but it also helps employees expand their knowledge base into subjects they may not normally get the opportunity to pursue.
As he explained: “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.”
Job-sharing between teachers
Part-time work within teaching has suffered from a negative perception in the past. Many feel that it results in too many classes being shared among different teachers, with a resulting impact in the quality and consistency of the teaching that students receive.
But this isn’t necessarily the reality. Many schools have found that pupil engagement actually increases when teaching is covered by multiple members of staff, as seeing a ‘fresh face’ helps break them out of the normal routine.
Marie Staley found that job-sharing is particularly effective when pairs of teachers with complementary skills form a strong combination: “The teachers complement each other with their deep subject knowledge, which is great for the pupils,” she told our webinar. “Job shares are remarkably effective when the communication is clear, and the teachers share specialisms and passions.”
However, Marie was keen to point out that they try to avoid particular year groups facing shared classes in multiple years as they progress through primary school.
Flexible working can be hugely beneficial to teachers, schools and students alike. But getting it right can be tricky, and what success looks like will vary significantly depending on a school’s individual characteristics.
Additionally, if you’d like to read about creating a wellbeing culture in schools, our blog explores three strategies that can help you develop a positive, inclusive culture that your workforce is happy to be a part of.