How can we encourage more schools to offer Flexible Teaching Opportunities? By Hannah Wilson

Recruitment, Retention, Talent Spotting and Succession Planning are recurring themes for the #womened community, I have not been to an event in the last 5 years when this has not come up in conversation.

A while back I attended a conference by the Guardian Education team who had published a report on their research into the state of the education profession. They analyse the data of why we don’t have enough teachers and leaders. Ultimately, we have more leaving then we do training, but rather than throwing incentives to encourage more graduates to train, why are we not unpicking the reasons preventing trained, experienced teachers from staying in the profession?

I was not shocked to hear that the significant demographic leaving teaching were women, between 30-39. The irony and ongoing dichotomy of our profession is that we prioritise the children of others, over our own children.

When I became a Headteacher Designate last I pledged to ensure that all roles advertised were open to flexibility where possible. As a consequence, I have a 4 day a week AHT, a 4 day a week Art LP and a 3 day a week PE LP. The AHT does outreach and consultancy on his 5th day, our Art LP is going to spend some time on her own portfolio and our PE LP has two small children. As a school with well-being as one of our core values it was important to me to ensure that staff could pursue their passions, balance their families and carve out their own career pathways from the get-go.

I was conscious with a start-up school we were in a unique situation as we could create a new way of doing things. It also suited us to have part-time roles which could grow in to full time roles as the school expanded, as this paralleled some of our flexible workers who had small children, potentially wanting more hours as their children get older so it suits all of us.

My tips for other school leaders and recruiters to help flex our school system:

  1. Advertising:

How inclusive is your advert? I made the wording very clear in every advert, every job description and every person specification by including the same standardised sentence that we consider flexible roles.

  1. HR Documents:

The same sentence was echoed in our Person Specifications and Job Description for every teaching, leadership and operational role.

  1. Applications:

I hear all the time, at what point in the process do you ask. Do you drop it into your initial visit, your supporting statement, or at interview? In our case, because we had made it explicit in our recruitment strategy, our candidates made it explicit in their applications. I was already considering how to make it work before I had met them.

  1. Interviews:

Again, I inserted a standardised question into all of my interviews. I asked it at the end of the interview when we were finding out what salary they were seeking and what CPD they needed to support them in the role. By us leading the discussion it diffused the nerves and tension of the candidate wondering when it would be okay to ask and how we would respond so a transparent and open conversation could take place.

  1. Negotiation:

I have been asked by a lot of #womened colleagues to also share tips, talk and write about how to negotiate your salary. My advice is always to negotiate but to consider what you value beyond a salary increase. In the past I have negotiated an office, a mobile, a laptop, an admin support, more free periods, a paid for CPD programme more and a relocation package. The one that brought me the most satisfaction was two more free periods. My Headteacher offered me more money but this would have meant more hours in the evenings and at the weekend. I offered no more money but more non-teaching/ non-duty time. He laughed and thought I was kidding. I was promoted and maintained my well-being – so go in prepared, know what you want to ask for, have a gold/ silver/ bronze approach  – I always go in higher/ more demanding than I am prepared to settle – we all leave happy!

  1. Befriend the Timetabler:

In all honesty, besides traditional mindsets the biggest blocker to flexible working in schools is the timetable or the timetable themselves. Researching and understanding how to make this work will help your negotiations. I often wonder what our timetables would be like if each SLT had a PT leader who did the timetable and was committed to making it work? It would be a game changer. I have heard many a time it is impossible, but I have spent hours at home with posts it and manual colour-coded spreadsheets to make it work. Devolved timetabling to middle leaders gives the department some ownership to work as a team on removing some of the barriers and finding some mutually beneficial solutions.

  1. Contact Time:

In secondary schools, it is the Tutor Group, after-school clubs, detentions and meetings that are the killers when you are trying to carve out flexible hours. Again, our system needs to change to respond to the changes in how we work.  Flipped lessons are a buzz word for our students, how about Flipped CPD and Flipped Meetings for the adult learners? We need to think outside of the box and be more creative about we get the desired outcomes we seek, by doing things differently.

  1. Unconscious Bias Training:

This has come up a lot regarding the launch of #BAMEed and the conception of #LGBTed and #DIisabilityEd. In other industries the senior leaders are all trained. In our schools this is not common practice. I would recommend that if all Governors, Senior Leaders and HR teams who are involved in long listing, short listing, interviewing and making job offers did this training we would see some real change in how we package our roles up.

  1. Leadership:

Visible roles models are key to inspire others to ask for flexible working and see it as a possibility. Flexible leadership is also often more doable than flexible teaching as there are less structural barriers to navigate.  Whilst the leaders may set the tone of the school, it is the managers who manage teams on day to day operations, training them to support flexible workers is key. Equally if we established co-leadership roles at a middle leadership level the pipeline flexes as people move up in their careers.  There is research that shows that if schools offered more part-time roles and job shares that they would retain more high potential teachers and middle leaders. I would say the same – that we would have more female senior leaders and potentially headteachers if Co-Headships was a more common model.

  1. KIT leave and Return to Teaching/Work

How we support parents as they phase in and out of maternity and paternity leave says a lot about the culture of a school. Keeping in touch days, used properly, can keep employees engaged and updated on developments. A lot of schools now welcome returnees bringing their babies in with them. There are also nationwide schemes for encourages those who are qualified to return to teaching now that more schools are considering flexible roles.

Hannah Wilson, FCCT FRSA

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