Flexible working sounds lovely, but it would make the teacher shortage worse

Britain has a severe teacher shortage. New recruits have been below target for five years in a row and applications for training courses are down a third again this year. Combine this with a quarter of new teachers leaving the job within three years, plus high drop-out rates among women in their thirties who make up much of the profession, and you can see the problem. Laura McInerney writes for The Guardian reports.

The government has a grand plan. Since last October the Department for Education has been pushing flexible working as a solution to overcome the shortage, urging heads to offer part-time work, and serious thinkers meeting at “flexible working summits” to pledge their support.

Teacher Tapp, an experimental app I’m involved with, surveys around 1,800 teachers each day. When asked about part-time working, 40% said they would choose to reduce their hours. At that rate, even if they reduced their week by just one day, the country would need an additional 40,000 teachers just to cover the shortfall. That’s more teachers than are trained in one year, and far more than would stay because of flexible working.

The real problem of teaching is not its inflexibility. It’s the never-ending demands of the job. Not only do teachers typically spend more than 20 hours a week in front of classes (a figure that is one of the highest in the world) but there are no limits to the other work they are expected to do. It is assumed they will do whatever is required to get the outcomes demanded.

But, what’s the alternative? Becky Allen, an academic at the Institute of Education, recently suggested an experiment. Each day schools would open for teachers at, say, 8am and close at 4.30pm. No work would be allowed either side. What could be done in the allotted time would show what it is possible for teachers to do, and school leaders, the government and inspectorate could recalibrate expectations accordingly.

Politically, this is difficult. No education secretary wants to preside over a reduction in service levels. But school improvement over the years has been built on the backs of teachers sacrificing their personal lives. Their numbers are diminishing, and flexible working is unlikely to boost them. In fact, it could well make the situation worse.

Read the full article  Flexible working sounds lovely, but it would make the teacher shortage worse

Would contract hours ever work? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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