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How Can We Encourage More Schools to Offer Flexible Teaching Opportunities?

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Recruitment, retention, talent spotting and succession planning are recurring themes for the #womened community, I have not held nor attended an event yet since we started 2.5 years ago when this has not come up in conversation.

Last year 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 analysed 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 year 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 am conscious with a start up school we are in a unique situation as we can create a new way of doing things. It also suits us to have part-time roles which could grow in to full-time roles as the school expands, but this parallels some of our flexible workers who have small children, potentially wanting more hours as their children get older so it suits all of us.

My tips for other schools:

  1. 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. 2. HR Documents:

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

  1. 3. 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. 4. 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. 5. 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 colleague and fellow co-founder Vivienne Porritt has blogged about this via StaffRm.

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 a few more grand 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 wellbeing – 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. 6. 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 post-its 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. 7. Contact Time:

In secondary schools, it is the Tutor Group, afterschool 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. 8. 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. 9. Middle Leadership:

Co-Headships are in demand from those in the profession but are rarely advertised as a recruitment tool, instead being used as a retention tool.   I understand it is a big risk with a new Headteacher, let alone a pair of new leaders who might not gel. However if schools were more open to job shares and flexibility in the middle leadership where most schools are female heavy, wouldn’t the governors and the system be more ready for shared leadership roles at a senior level including headship?

  1. 10. KIT leave and Return to Teaching/Work

Something I have been looking into is how best to support staff who are going on or returning from maternity leave. As DHT responsible for CPD and then the professional learning leader across a MAT, I have made some proposals to HR about how we can best support one of our vulnerable groups of staff. I have seen many women lose their confidence and often their TLRs when they come back from having a child. After reading Sandberg’s Lean In I was mortified to think of a colleague traipsing from the furthest parking lot heavily pregnant or not having anywhere to express their milk. Why are our schools so family unfriendly?

Through #womened I have made brilliant connections with women who have utilised social media platforms to launch collaborative projects to grow a community such as @MaternityCPD and #MTPTproject, together with Leaders with babies. The DfE have tried but failed to launch a Return to teaching/ return to work scheme which is going through another rebrand.

Ultimately, in my humble opinion I would like see more best practice identified and shared about who is getting this right. Which schools, academies, MATs are nurturing this talent. We cannot keep saying we have a recruitment issue, we need to reflect and realise we have a retention issue. But both issues could be significantly improved if we were more open as a profession to more flexible working models in our schools.

 

Originally published on Flexible teaching

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