Improving staff retention through flexible timetabling

Could flexible working be the thing that keeps teachers in the profession? UK head of school Sue Plant thinks so and has made sure her timetable is as malleable as possible.

Tes Editorial

Improving staff retention through flexible timetabling

It’s no secret that staff retention is one of the biggest problems faced by education right now.

In the UK one third of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and although it’s difficult to zero in on the exact cause of this early-career exodus, there is mounting evidence that a lack of flexible working plays its part.

Sue Plant is head of school at John Taylor Free School in Staffordshire, UK, and having come up against a lack of flexibility in her own career she vowed to embed a different culture as she entered leadership.

Plant appeared in a Tes knowledge share webinar in December 2020 and during the session identified an alarming trend in female teachers leaving education, a trend that underpins the staff shortages schools have struggled with in recent years. She also demonstrates that these departures have led to a massive disparity when it comes to female teachers reaching leadership positions.

According to DfE workforce data, 76 per cent of teachers in England are women, but this percentage drops to just 36 when looking at secondary headteachers. So why the big drop off?

Plant highlights the fact that women aged 30-39 represent 27 per cent of teachers leaving the workforce every year, and links these departures to the lack of flexibility on offer.

27 per cent of female teachers work part-time, compared with 42 per cent of the workforce in the UK. While male staff also take fewer part-time roles- around 8.5 per cent of male teachers work part-time, compared with 13 per cent of men in the workforce nationally- the numbers for women represent a far bigger problem.  

So for school leaders faced with the prospect of losing quality teachers as they look for a more flexible career, surely there is a solution?

“I firmly believe that a culture of flexible working is the way to recruit and retain quality teachers,” says Plant.

“The time when the excuse of ‘it sets a precedent’ or ‘the timetable is a barrier’ prohibits people from working flexibly is gone, and we need to reset the profession, the professional standards and the expectations of our colleagues.”

Plant sees enabling the discussion of flexible working as an essential tool in improving employee wellbeing, and encourages transparency when it comes to what employees want and what the school can offer.

“When there’s a bit of give and take and a shared appreciation of flexibility then it means we nearly always meet a compromise over what will work for the employee and for the school,” says Plant. “Having sophisticated timetabling software helps us do that.”

To find out more about how Plant has embedded flexible timetabling in her school watch the full webinar below: