Flexible working is now a widely accepted practice. Opportunities in schools are less obvious than in the business world because children need face-to-face contact with their teachers.
The key to success is to introduce flexible options tailored to the needs of the school, teachers and pupils, as Moulsham Junior School, in Essex, found.
Marie Staley, headteacher, wanted to ensure her staff could give their best to the job. “When a member of staff asks to work flexibly, we listen to their needs and try to accommodate them but it has to be in the best interests of the children,” says Marie. “We consider requests as fairly as we can.”
This case-by-case approach means that staff feel comfortable asking for flexible options, knowing they will be supported if it works well for pupils.
Job-sharing is one of the main requests for flexible-working. While they are not always popular with parents, they can benefit children if well-planned.
“We aim to marry up teachers’ strengths and skills in a job share,” explains Marie. “For example, one of my current job-share teachers is creative and artistic, the other is knowledgeable in science and technology. They complement each other.”
Communication is at the heart of a successful job-share. “I tend to have job-share teachers working with my job-share heads of year too, so there is an understanding of the challenges involved.”
Staff have the freedom to do their planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) at home.
“They can go shopping on a Wednesday afternoon and save their planning for Sunday morning if that works for them. Everyone can choose how to manage their time as a professional.”
When staff are trusted to manage their time, they have the space to focus, which is reflected in the quality of lesson planning and pupil feedback.
Moulsham Junior School takes a flexible approach in the way it structures staff meetings too.
“We plan our professional development meetings are succinct and focused. We also keep two of those sessions free, so a group of teachers might go off and do an activity together, or they might choose to go home early to walk the dog or meet a friend for coffee.”
Improved mental health and wellbeing
A positive consequence of flexible working is on work-life balance and wellbeing.
“I encourage colleagues to find solutions and make arrangements that work for them,” Marie said. “If someone needs to take their cat to the vet, they can ask a colleague to take registration for them, for instance.”
As a result, Marie noticed that the working relationships have become stronger and more supportive.
“When someone needs flexibility, they know their needs will be met with kindness and compassion. They can balance with family life and mental health needs, making them better colleagues and better teachers.”
Keeping good teachers
Flexible working also means teachers take less leave during term time.
Flexibility is also a factor when it comes to teacher recruitment and retention.
“It is important to give candidates a clear view of the school’s ethos when they apply for a role. Candidates know they will be well supported with flexible options for teaching and PPA time, and in return, we expect them to meet our high standards.”
Nicki Harris is schools HR manager at Juniper Education. Visit https://junipereducation.org/