Trying to timetable lessons, training and support in a further education college can feel like playing a particularly tough game of Tetris. As variously shaped teaching-time blocks fall from the sky, you have to slot them together to make a cohesive plan. It's almost impossible. Take your eye off the ball for a second and you have holes and mismatches all over the place.
One of the issues is part-time staff. FE is proud to have - and benefits from - an incredibly diverse workforce. Part-time workers are important players. At our college, 70 per cent of staff are part-time. But ensuring that you meet the needs and manage the constraints of these staff is tough.
When you get it right, every member of staff feels valued and has the opportunity to develop, flourish and prosper. This has a huge impact on the effectiveness of provision and, ultimately, on the education and attainment of the learners. When you get it wrong, however, it can be damaging for everyone. So how can you ensure that your college is a smooth-running success?
Right place, right time
It starts with understanding the part-time workforce. All our senior management team and heads of department are full-time employees. So do we really understand what it is like to work for us part-time? We have to. We must talk to our staff and make sure we understand their roles. We have to think, all the time, about how our actions and decisions impact on every person who works here.
When we arrange a meeting for 8.30am, for example, we risk excluding as many people as we include - offering payment for attending a 30-minute meeting on a day when someone would otherwise not be at work is not likely to be received positively.
Likewise, when we pay a bonus and reduce it pro-rata for part-time staff, have we thought about whether they feel less valued than their full-time colleagues?
When it comes to timetable changes or cover for absent colleagues, do we unwittingly exclude part-time staff from the team dynamic because they are unable to offer us flexibility? If so, we need to consider the emotional impact. So how does this work in practice?
Be clear that it will not always be possible for timetables to fit perfectly around the preferred working patterns of every person, but be reasonable and give at least three months' notice of any changes.
Have discussions with individuals about how the timetable could be arranged to best suit the learners and the employee, as well as fitting in with the needs of other colleagues. Ensure that everyone understands the learner experience is the focus.
.but don't let the tail wag the dog
If you can't find a solution with a particular teacher, it is better to look elsewhere for your delivery. You will not be doing that teacher any favours if he or she gets negative feedback because of a poor timetabling decision.
Be upfront about extracurricular
We expect part-time teachers to take their fair share of events such as open evenings and parents' evenings, but we build this into their contracts. This system avoids resentment from full-time colleagues and involves the whole team in the work of the department.
Part-time staff need to be able to attend training events, so make sure this is a consideration during planning. We stagger our Inset sessions so they are not always on the same day of the week, and our Tuesday morning teacher forums are repeated on a Thursday afternoon. Videos and materials are made available for those who cannot attend.
Get everyone involved
All teachers should be encouraged to participate fully in college life. If hourly paid staff are expected only to prepare lessons, teach and mark, they can start to feel like second-class citizens. We pay for attending meetings and also offer a training rate for attending important CPD sessions.
Make pay clear
Be open about how the hourly rate paid to sessional staff relates to the equivalent salary of full-time and fractional staff. A policy that ensures equitable rates of pay and transparency in the calculations removes the potential for misunderstandings or resentment.
Understand other commitments
You must recognise that part-time staff may also work elsewhere, so when they say they aren't available on a particular day of the week, this inflexibility may not be a matter of choice.
Get the balance right
Ideally a department will have a mix of full-time, fractional and sessional teachers and assessors. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but a sensible mix is about 55 per cent full-time, 30 per cent fractional and 15 per cent hourly paid, to provide a good balance for team dynamics, learner experience, effective management and flexibility in resourcing.
Sarah Meeson is director of human resources and David Moir is deputy principal of finance and resources, both at Basingstoke College of Technology