Flexible working in senior leadership

Tes Editorial

flexible working

In a recent forum discussion, one teacher asked why flexible working is not granted for those on the senior leadership team.

The forum user explained: “I am great at my job. I love my job. The kids respond well to me and staff respect me.

“I have just had a baby. I love my daughter. I want to be a role model to her like my working mum was to me. I want to see her grow up.

“It seems the above two paragraphs are not compatible. I applied for part-time (four days a week) and was told the impact on other peoples workload would be too much and that the students need consistency.”

There has been a growing trend for going part-time throughout the UK, however this has not translated into teaching. According to a report on flexible working by the Department for Education, the “percentage of teachers working part-time has stayed steady in recent years (at around 22 per cent)”, which it highlights, is “significantly lower than in the general population."

The report, which was published in February 2017, goes on to point out 8% of male teachers work part-time compared with 13 per cent of men nationally, and 26 per cent of female teachers work part-time compared to 42 per cent of their counterparts nationally.

So is there a correct way to go about proposing a reduction in hours?

Schools are open to the idea

They are a number of ways flexible working can be implemented. This could include going part-time with a reduction in the number of hours you work, perhaps going from five days a week to four. Alternatively, there is the option of job share, where the position is shared between two staff members, while compressed hours, full-time hours over less days, and staggered hours, which has different start and finish times, are other potential options.

First of all, if you wish to move to a more flexible working week, you need to ask your line manager or headteacher about the possibility.

The DfE publication cited two reports, which found bosses were open to the idea. This included research from Institute of Leadership and Management which found 82 per cent of managers think flexible working has a beneficial effect on their business. Meanwhile research by CIPD found 73 per cent of employers felt flexible working had a positive impact on employee motivation. 

Liam McIlvenny, specialist advisor at the NAHT headteachers’ union, says all schools should have a policy on the subject. “All schools should have a flexible working policy to ensure consistency of approach and to be able to apply a process when the situation arises.

“There is a right to apply for flexible working, but you don’t have a right for it to be granted. But there are a number of reasons where it can be advantageous such as in the retention of talented staff and succession planning.”

Flexible working is beneficial

While making your proposition to alter your hours, highlight the advantages of flexible working for your school.

The DfE report found many schools gained “considerable benefits for staff, school and pupils as a result of job sharing and flexible working.”

According to DfE, the benefits include:

  • Skilled and experienced staff, who would have left the profession, are retained.
  • A more diverse range of skills and experience.
  • The number of sick days are reduced.
  • Experienced teachers return from maternity leave quicker.
  • Offers a gradual transition to retirement rather than a "cliff edge".

Flexible working for headteachers

There are multiple ways in which a job share can work for the headteacher's position, including as a retirement transition or as a way to introduce new ideas into the role.

McIlvenny explains why NAHT are supportive of the policy. “Not only is it a way of retaining the more mature heads, a headteacher job share can help those people in the deputy role who are a bit nervous of the step up to headship. They can step into the breach and have someone guide, get them trained up and operational in the role.

“Also it can give a head another person to talk to and bounce ideas off. A job share can potentially bring a new dynamic and creative view to the headship,” McIlvenny adds.

“A move to more flexible hours can offer a better work-life balance and improve the energy and enthusiasm of the senior leader. On the days they are working they can come in with a buzz and therefore they are putting in more and the school are getting more out of them.”

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