Q&A: Offering flexible and part-time work
Independent schools will benefit from a better recruitment pool if they embrace flexible working, writes Lindsay Patience
Q: Is flexible working just part-time?
A: Absolutely not. There are lots of ways to provide flexibility for teachers. Preparation and planning time offsite, work from home in non-contact time, late starts/early finishes where the timetable or other duties allow it. Teachers can have their timetables set up in a way that allows them to teach all of their hours condensed into fewer than five days or have their part-time hours spread across the week. Job-shares may also be worth consideration. Policies or arrangements allowing time off for personal engagements such as their own child’s nativity play or first day at school or medical appointments are low impact but highly appreciated.
Q: What does best practice look like in terms of a flexible working policy?
A: Many schools have used a template for their flexible working policy which has not specifically considered their context. In fact, often the policy is only written or tested when a first request in made. Flexible working policies should be strategically considered and proactively used. Best practice is to have a culture that assesses annually the needs of all staff in terms of flexible working. At the very least, the policy should be provided for staff who are returning from parental leave or long-term absence. Line managers should be clear on the legal and regulatory requirements and principles of the policy in advance of dealing with requests.
Q: How can we recruit more flexibly?
A: Include a line in job adverts about being open to flexible working. Many teachers are afraid to bring up flexible working in job interviews. Making it explicit that you will consider flexible working arrangements and proactively offering the chance to discuss it as part of the interview will increase your talent pool and encourage more, and potentially better quality, applications. It can help you to get the best candidates. Many excellent teachers and leaders who already work flexibly feel “trapped” in their current role as they fear they will not be able to secure the same arrangements in another school or post.
Q: How can we better support flexible teachers?
A: Clear communication is important for staff who are not always on site. Making sure that messages and meeting minutes are shared in a timely and effective manner helps everyone in the organisation. Careful use of language is also worth considering; avoid “part-timers” being seen as a pain or less committed. An important cultural point is not discounting flexible workers from opportunities for promotion or development. In more practical terms, it is helpful to have clear expectations on attendance to evening events, courses or meetings on non-school days. If pay is pro rata then responsibilities should also be pro rata.
Q: How can we ensure that CPD works for flexible workers?
A: The global pandemic led to a huge step change in how training was delivered. This should mean that workshops, presentations and courses are now easier to access for those working flexibly. Have a clear and well-communicated policy on what happens when attendance at a training event falls during non-school time. Is it paid? Time off in-lieu? If staff are expected to do it but not be compensated, then they are being disadvantaged. Consider how internal development opportunities are delivered, are they after school? During the school day? Accessible remotely? Offered to everyone? Available after the event?
Q: How can we use flexible working to better support diversity in leadership?
A: The gender pay gap in education is one of the worst across all industries. If senior roles are only open to full-time employees then women, who still take on the majority of caring responsibilities and are more likely to require flexibility, will inevitably be disadvantaged. Senior roles should be designed to work flexibly to allow a wider and more diverse range of candidates to access them. If we want to attract, retain and develop the best school leaders then we need to move away from a model which only allows one type of person to succeed.
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