Flexible working: A case study

Flexible working isn’t possible in schools – or is it? Imogen Rowley looks at one school that’s made flexible working a success, and offers advice for how you can too in SecEd.

For all the sneers from outsiders of 3pm finishes and 13 weeks of holiday, those in the thick of it are more than aware of how un-family-friendly teaching can be, and why the option to work flexibly may help to ease the retention crisis – as was recently suggested by the NFER’s teacher retention research (SecEd, November 2018).

While organisations such as the Chartered College of Teaching and the National Education Union have pledged to encourage flexible working in the profession, the idea that it just “won’t work” for teachers lingers on. One school in Manchester, however, is proving that, actually, it can. So how does this school do it?

Manchester Communication Academy, a secondary school with 1,200 pupils on roll, has pioneered part-time and flexible hours for all its staff since it opened in 2010. Twelve of its 100 teachers work part-time, and all are on permanent contracts.

Staff retention rates are superb: less than 10 per cent of staff left the school in the 2017/18 academic year. Staff survey comments also pick up on how flexible working has allowed teachers to fit the job they love around their home life, without detriment to their career development. Indeed, one has become the head of her department.

The school’s approach to flexible working centres on having a formulaic timetable and six faculty areas. Each year group is timetabled to one faculty area per two-hour period, and there are three periods every day except Friday (which has two).

Approximately 75 per cent of pupils qualify for Pupil Premium funding, enabling higher staff-to-pupil ratios that ensure disadvantaged children get the attention they need. 

The school has also made huge savings in other areas as a result of offering flexible working. It reduced the supply budget by 73 per cent in the last academic year, and being open to job applicants seeking part-time roles means that it spends less money on expensive supply staff and sickness pay.

So, how might you make flexible working work for your school?

Whether or not you plan to introduce a flexible working policy, you should be aware that all employees have the right to request flexible working, as long as they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks.

Bear in mind that “flexible working” takes many forms, including part-time work, job-shares, phased retirement, allowing PPA or CPD time at home, staggered hours or extra days off. Every school’s circumstances are different, but here are some tips on approaches that might just make it work for you:

  • Take a look at your timetable – can you simplify it in any way? Perhaps you can’t organise the school into faculties, but is there any kind of logical system whereby a department, year group or member of staff could have free or PPA time at the beginning or end of the day?

  • Advertise all vacancies as flexible hours to attract a wider pool of talent and be sure you aren’t inadvertently deterring outstanding candidates.

Read more about how Manchester Communication Academy work and more tips on how your school could make it work Flexible working: A case study

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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