Flexible working is possible if schools focus on outcomes, not hours

Teachers shouldn't have to choose between furthering their careers and looking after their families, writes one assistant head

Holly Power

Flexible working in schools, teacher and mother, working mums, part-time working in schools,

We all have friends who have left teaching. Some because it wasn’t right for them. Others because they’d lost their enthusiasm. It’s par for the course in any job. The thing that really irks me is those who leave teaching because they are forced to choose between their family and their profession. I’ve lost count of the number of friends in this position – good teachers who enjoy their jobs but who just can’t find a way to make it work.

Unfortunately, for most, the realities of having a family iare a far cry from the have-it-all, insta-perfect lives we view vicariously on a daily basis. Sure, life is a balancing act but that requires a willingness by everyone involved to adopt a level of flexibility. More than half of teachers who take a career break to look after family don’t return, and many state a lack of flexible working options as the biggest reason, according to NFER research.

Quick read: Hinds calls for all teaching jobs to be advertised with flexible options

One teacher's story: Why is a request to go part-time so unreasonable?

Advice: Four rules to make part-time really work for you

I had my first child three years ago. It didn’t even cross my mind that I might have to rethink my career as a result of becoming a mum. I’d always thought it was understandable that parents had chosen to leave teaching because they wanted to spend more time with their offspring. It didn’t occur to me that they had to make that decision because our profession wasn’t willing to modernise and support parents who were keen to get back to work.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My school is a rare find – our leadership team has an almost equal split of males and females and is always thinking of different solutions to our workload issues. I swotted up for weeks before I nervously made the call to ask about maybe…possibly…having some flexibility with my working hours to fit with my new childcare arrangements. Fortunately, my request was met with an open, honest discussion of what would work for us both without holding my leadership position – and everything else I’d spent my career working for – to ransom. Why isn’t this the case for every teacher at every school?

This is why I founded Return to Teach. We put experienced teachers in touch with schools that offer flexible working. We have more than 500 teachers looking for flexible roles – many of whom have previously been examiners, middle leaders and even headteachers. It’s a way of keeping much-needed experienced professionals in their chosen vocation while helping them to balance their family responsibilities.

Sure, there are barriers and some resistance. I often hear from new parents who have had flexible working requests granted on the proviso that they lose their TLR or leadership responsibility. This is madness and directly contributes to the gender pay gap and under-representation of women in school leadership. I know from first-hand experience that, with some creative thinking, flexible working can be achieved and the choice between furthering your career and looking after a family needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Children deserve access to experienced, specialist teachers at a time when they are needed most. To achieve this we need a step change. We need to drive a culture shift in the education community to make teaching more family-friendly. Flexible working has been proven to create a happy workforce and increase both staff retention and productivity.  So isn’t it time we focused on outcomes rather than hours?

Holly Power is assistant principal at Chelsea Academy and founder of Return to Teach. If you’d like to hear from flexible friendly schools near you, sign up for free here

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