Part-time and flexible working is strongly influenced by the extent to which senior leaders take a proactive approach to encouraging different working patterns, according to new research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).This can include being systematic about asking for annual submissions to change working patterns, checking these with timetables and staffing forecasts, and then negotiating further with staff, who also need to be flexible around their requests.
NFER’s report ‘Part-time Teaching and Flexible Working in Secondary Schools’ aims to support school leaders with practical actions to achieve this. The report estimates that around one in six secondary school teachers would like to reduce their hours, and around one in 12 would like to reduce their hours by more than a day a week. While it is unlikely that all of these teachers would actually reduce their hours if given the opportunity, the finding is consistent with NFER’s previous research that illustrated a significant number of teachers who leave the state sector, do so to take up part-time positions elsewhere.
Creating a culture that promotes flexible working is a key priority in the Department for Education’s ‘Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy’. Perceptions that school leaders would not support a request for part-time working was a more widespread barrier than the actual incidence of teachers’ requests being turned down. Just under a third of the teachers (31 per cent) who wanted to work fewer hours and could afford to do so said they had made no formal request for part-time working, suspecting that if they did their senior leaders would not allow them to change. Only 14 per cent of teachers reported having had a request for part-time working rejected.
NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said of NFER’s findings: “At a time when the number of secondary pupils is forecast to increase by 15 per cent over the next decade, retaining teachers is one of the top challenges faced by schools. NFER’s previous research has highlighted that the profession is losing good teachers due to a lack of flexibility. Taking a more proactive and positive approach to offering part-time and flexible working opportunities could help school leaders to retain the expertise of teachers rather than losing them permanently from the state sector.
However, the kinds of approaches identified in our report are not a panacea for the challenges facing the teaching workforce. The government needs to continue working with the profession to find ways to make teachers’ workloads more manageable.”
School leaders said that allowing staff to work on a part-time or flexible basis enabled schools to retain good teachers while improving teachers’ wellbeing and energy at work.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We simply must stem the exodus of teachers from the profession, and one way we can do that is to improve opportunities for part-time and flexible working. It won’t solve the crisis on its own, but it will help, and we welcome the positive and supportive contribution of this report. People increasingly expect employers to adapt to changes in their lives and we must rise to that challenge. It is also vital that the government improves teachers’ pay after many years of stagnation, that it funds schools properly, and that it does more to ease the pressure caused by an excessive and morale-sapping accountability system.”
Chris Wilson, Business Manager at Wadebridge School in Cornwall, said: “For many years, Wadebridge School has embraced part-time and flexible working amongst its staff as a way of enabling them to strike, where possible, a better work-life balance. This has been something we have implemented at our school for a very long time. As a result, we have found that not only do we have a happier and healthier workforce but that there can be financial benefits to the school, for example reducing staffing costs.”