At my school, 18 members of staff are currently either pregnant or on maternity leave. In a three-form-entry prep school of 400 pupils, that’s almost a quarter of the staff.
Of course, I am genuinely thrilled and delighted for the women concerned. We are a close team and, as a mother of three, I know that having a baby is a joy. I have fully supported these teachers through their ups and downs. But, nevertheless, it has been difficult for the school.
The challenges are varied. For example, how do you ensure that pupils have a smooth and seamless transition between teachers and continue to receive the very best education? And how do you keep the parents happy? In my last school, one parent asked me why I couldn’t stop my teachers getting pregnant. Did they want me to break into the bedroom and shout “Stop!” at the crucial moment?
Particularly tricky issues are part-time working and job sharing. The key here is to be flexible, and to communicate arrangements clearly to parents and staff.
The “when” of teachers returning to school can also present headaches. Four members of my staff chose to come back to work in July, but only for the last few days of term, in order to secure their holiday pay over the summer.
You have to be fair to everyone in this situation. Even though it meant that I had an excess of staff in the last week of term, I was not going to dismiss the cover teachers who had been working professionally and competently throughout the year. This put pressure on budgets because I had to pay both sets of salaries over the summer. I could have dug my heels in, but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.
You also have to think long-term. My school invests significantly in staff development and I want teachers to be keen to return after having their child.
Underpinning all this is understanding. I recognise the challenges that these teachers are going through, because I have experienced them first-hand. I have also had to deal with sexist headteachers who have patronised me and told me that teaching is “a nice job for a girl”.
It’s not always easy to find the right balance. But when you do, you ensure that despite short-term ups and downs, the school’s long-term trajectory is stable.
Joanna Ebner is headmistress of Thomas’s Kensington in West London
Read more of Joanna's tips in the 18 September edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick the magazine up at all good newsagents.