Theodora Nickson is Co-Head at Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School, an academy in Hertfordshire with 900 students. She joined the school as Head fifteen years ago, and became Co-Head in September 2018. 

Flexible working across the school

“Flexible working matters. Teaching is vitally important but there is more to life than a job – flexible working helps people find the balance they need. I took minimal maternity leave with my children but could just pop home at lunchtime because I lived close to school. Moving to other schools that were less flexible helped me realise the importance of giving staff input into how they work. 

“For the next academic year, our school has 63 teaching staff for 50 full-time posts. Thirty-one teachers are on part-time contracts, ranging from 0.13 to 0.93 FTE. I think two excellent part-time teachers are better than one satisfactory teacher working full-time. As a result, we’re fully staffed with great teachers and low turnover. Only one person is leaving this summer and she’s 70 years old!

Consistency through low turnover

 “We make this work in a number of ways, including split classes. Some believe these have a negative impact on students but we see no real evidence of that. We split curriculum topics really clearly, so there’s no confusing handover. Young people definitely need consistency but it’s high staff turnover that really creates disruption. 

 “I wrote timetables before I became a Head, so I know they are ultimately about people. A computer won’t know that putting every maths lesson at the end of the day is a recipe for disaster or that someone needs the option to go and care for a sick parent. 

 “As a leader it’s your job to get the best out of your teachers, so they can get the best out of students. Flexible working has helped us to do this.” 

How we make flexible working work 

Review working patterns every year: staff submit requests every January and these are negotiated before the timetable is written.

Share leadership responsibilities more widely: projects previously run by the Deputy Head are cascaded to new assistant heads.

Develop clear policies that encourage honesty: our Leave of Absence Policy allows unpaid days off for sick children and special occasions. Staff appreciate that we give them this time, if it is possible.

Create hybrid roles, such as Cover Supervisor / Learning Support Assistant. It reduces use of supply teachers and means students still see a familiar face.

As a leader, get some timetabling experience. It’s not just for those with great analytic skills; a great timetabler needs to understand staff and students’ needs too.