Flexible Working for Teachers – what we learned from LKMco, WomenEd, Flexible Teacher Talent and other experts.

When it comes to hosting events, LKMco are known for two things: exciting salons of solutions-oriented thinking and stellar spreads of food and drink. Last night’s event, titled “Flexible Working: How can we take the force out of the teacher workforce?” was no exception. Teacher Booker were delighted to attend and participate in a wide-ranging and productive conversation. Here’s our brief summary of proceedings.

Three Headline figures

The climate for flexible working in schools has changed dramatically in the past couple of years, shifting from frosty to warm in many parts of the country. This can be seen in a few figures stated over the course of the evening:

  • One of the main reasons teachers leave the classroom is to spend more time with their families. Flexible Teacher Talent, using summary statistics from the MTPT project, reported that more than half of teachers leaving the profession to look after their families never return to the classroom.
  • TES reported that 77% of surveyed ex-teachers would consider returning to the profession if flexible work options were available.
  • Iesha Small, drawing on her recent research on flexible working for LKMCo, found that a third of school leaders asserted that they would find recruitment easier if they were able to offer more flexible working opportunities.

These figures capture the shift in attitudes towards flexible working for teachers, as well as the potential impact on national recruitment and retention trends if access is widened.

Three Major talking points

With so many advocates of flexible working clustered in one space, conversation ran the risk of becoming self-congratulatory or single-sided. Thankfully, in part due to the skilled chairing of Ed Dorrell, conversation remained probing and critical:

  • Best practice – Vivienne Porritt of WomenEd observed that although many schools endorse the idea of flexible working, many of them have little idea how to successfully implement it. As such, building a cache of case studies of successful schools will be vital to helping spread the idea. In a similar vein, with timetabling being an oft-cited challenge to flexible working in schools, Paul Phillips of EdVal emphasised the need for schools to have access to cutting-edge techniques and strategies for effective timetabling and access to examples of it done well.
  • School Culture – Karen Giles, having built a culture that is hospitable to flexible working in her own school, emphasised the need for school leaders to normalise flexible working in their own institutions. This would involve not balking at the initial concerns over cost and timetabling. This theme was picked up during Q&A when it was pointed out that even schools that nominally support the idea of flexible working often do not introduce the necessary cultural shifts (e.g. scheduling of meetings, robust internal communication systems etc) that would allow that flexible worker to feel supported and encourage others to follow the same path.
  • Workload – while flexible working is sometimes asserted as a remedy for excessive workload in teaching, the panel introduced some highly nuanced perspectives on the claim. Catriona Jenkins, a jobsharing senior leader, observed that the general recruitment crisis for leadership roles in schools may be partially diminished if schools are open to the idea of flexible working for senior roles. Adel Bereksi, a flexible working middle manager, pointed out however that this can be a slippery slope and teachers can often end up working full-time hours in spite of what their contract says. However, he also observed that flexible working can be highly instructive in effective time management and can thus help with taming workload issues.

Three outstanding questions

All the best conversations are ongoing, and that’s certainly the case with the issue of flexible working in the education sector. Here are a few questions that occurred to us over the course of the evening that we’d like to hear thoughts on:

  • How will increased flexible working impact students, both positively and negatively?
  • How might wider access to flexible working impact recruitment of prospective teachers to Intitial Teacher Training?
  • How might technology facilitate flexible working at a large scale?

Thanks once again to Anna Trethewey and the rest of the LKMco team for organising such an enlightening event. We’re already looking forward to the next one!