Why flexible working matters

Now Teach commissioned research into flexible working because we believe it will make teaching more attractive as a long-term career choice. This blog summarises the report and includes advice for teachers looking to find a flexible role.

Schools are in the middle of a recruitment and retention crisis, so the positive impact of flexible working on perceptions of teaching must not be ignored. Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions but its structures are becoming increasingly distant from the modern workplace. 

Flexible working can benefit all teachers but we know it is especially important for experienced career-changers considering teaching, such as the people we recruit for Now Teach.

Many Now Teach participants have left senior roles where they had considerable autonomy. If schools want to attract and retain professionals from other sectors, they need to offer the flexible working that other employers increasingly provide.

A more attractive profession

It is widely recognised that any form of flexible working has a positive impact of employer well-being and productivity. Schools that offer flexible arrangements that work for students, teachers and leaders will be more able to attract and retain talented and dedicated people.

To explore the issue, our researchers spoke to teachers, leaders and staff in two schools, one of which is part of a multi-academy trust, to explore their views of flexible working. We found there are a number of barriers that stand in the way of a wider implementation of flexible working but that these can be resolved.

Our next step is to take this research forward, exploring the central question of whether and in what ways students are affected by flexible working. If you are interested in participating in or contributing to this work, get in touch.

Defining flexible working

Flexible working refers to a range of working patterns that do not fit into the traditional 9-to-5, five-day week.The three main elements of work flexibility are:

  1. where the individual works (in one or more places, from home or alternative locations);
  2. when they work (for example, staggered start and finish times or compressed hours); and
  3. how much they work (such as part-time, job share or unpaid leave).

The strongest argument against flexible working is that it may have a negative impact on students. Schools exist to educate and develop young people, so flexible working cannot be prioritised above them. However, there is little research about the impact of flexible working on pupil outcomes.

Structural Barriers to Flexible Working

There are a number of barriers that stand in the way of a wider implementation of flexible working.These included:

Complications of creating the timetable, staff-student ratios and the need for cover: The logistics of timetabling is often cited as the biggest obstacle to flexible working

Budget: Flexible working is often associated with job sharing and the need for ‘handover time’ increasing costs.

Workload and the intensity of the school day: Teachers often work beyond their contracted hours, so staff considering a part-time role fear it will result in a full-time workload.

Attitudinal Barriers to Flexible Working

There are some widely held attitudes about the infeasibility of flexible working within secondary schools. These included:

Opening the floodgates: Leaders worry they will inundated with requests because the demand is hard to gauge.Fairness and “first come, first served”The assumption that there must be limited scope for flexible working makes leaders worry that it will lead to unequal treatment.

Validity of reasons: Childcare can be seen as the only valid reason for flexible working, and leaders are unwilling to consider others.

Impact on students and student outcomes: The fear that students will suffer if teachers are less available, undermining the purpose of teaching.

Limits on progression: Some teachers fear that flexible working arrangements are incompatible with progression, promotion or leadership roles.

Management capacity: Managing a flexible workforce takes time and the timetable may need to be revised more frequently.

Skills Gaps

A lack of expertise in adapting to these changes will act as a barrier to successful flexible working.The skills needed are:

Redesigning jobs: This is a particular skill that demands additional training.

Building timetables: This is a logistical challenge that demands software many schools do not have.

Advice for applicants looking for flexible working

Before You Apply

Research flexible working: Find some case studies and explore the principles and practice of flexible working.

Identify necessities and nice-to-haves: It’s vital to be clear about what you will and won’t compromise on.

Create your case: Identify likely concerns and think about how you could overcome them.

When You Apply

Lead with your skills and experience: Show that you are a strong candidate who will be an asset to the school.

Don’t mention flexibility in your letter or CV: Wait until the interview.

Give it a shot: Even if the role isn’t advertised as part-time or flexible, you should apply if you think you are the right candidate.

At Interview

Lead with skills and experience: Show you are the best person for the job.

Think about when to mention flexibility: It might come up. If not, ask a few questions and then raise it as a point for discussion.

Take an open approach: Show your enthusiasm about the role and want to know what scope there is for flexibility.

Be prepared to be flexible in return: If it is a part-time role, be flexible about which days you can work.

Accept the limitations: Some forms of flexible working will be harder to manage.

Play the long game: Try suggesting a trial period with next steps for follow-up.