'Teaching, for many, is not a family career'

15th June 2016 at 12:24
motherhood and workload
Schools must offer more flexible working patterns if they want to prevent parents from leaving the profession, says the executive head of a teaching school alliance

What is the real cause of the teacher retention crisis? In my opinion, it's the rigid structure of many schools, the lack of flexibility in working patterns, part-time working not being accepted by many and a culture that doesn't encourage creativity in leadership.

Women leave the education sector in their droves in their late twenties and thirties. Why? Because schools are not set up for working parents. It's not just working mums that suffer but anyone who is a parent. Leadership team meetings that start and end outside nursery opening hours and before breakfast club has even started. House prices that drive families (especially in London) miles from where they work, and often far from their own family and support network. It takes a village to raise a child but if you can't financially afford to live in that village any more then you are on your own, often with a long commute to work and little left in the bank after expensive childcare.

Too few women strive for leadership

Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In worries about women stopping striving for leadership even before children are born. This is true in teaching, especially in London. Add in expensive school holiday hotel and flight prices, which mean that most of us can't even afford the getaways we need for our mental health. Teaching for many is not a family career. 

I know four outstanding women who have all left teaching in the past 12 months for these very reasons. A quarter of all those leaving teaching are women between the ages of 30 and 39 who often do not return from maternity leave. I am a lucky one. I have a very supportive husband, an immensely supportive team of colleagues, an inspiring chief executive, a nursery I am confident in and a family who moved to our village to help raise my beautiful and mostly well-behaved son. 

What can schools do?

Even as a headteacher who is not a parent you need to recognise the extra strain parenting can at times put on an individual – male or female. You can be creative with your staffing structure to retain your staff, not just those with children. Those who want to study, those who want to pursue competitive sport, those who are involved in music professionally, those who just don't want to work the set rigid hours of a school day.

Yes, someone has to be in the classroom during school opening times, but some people are early birds and might like to start the day at 7am taking their PPA time then. Others might like to start later and finish later. Part-time working, flexible hours, creative timetabling, co-headships, and different start times are some of the solutions to our retention crisis. If you are a headteacher, then be brave. Try something new. It may just stop your biggest problem – losing your best teachers to something else.

Sarah Hardy is the executive head of TBAP Teaching School Alliance and leads across the alliance in London and Cambridgeshire


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