Schools urged to give teachers more flexible working options

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:
Have a go: The education secretary Damian Hinds says that giving people a chance to try out teaching will help them to know if it is the right career for them (image: RDA Photography)

Recruitment & retention: Education secretary Damian Hinds urges schools to adopt flexible working and reveals his plan to let non-teachers ‘have a go’ in the classroom to see if teaching is the right career for them. Chris Parr reports

Schools must do more to make flexible working options available to teachers and school leaders, the education secretary has said.

He has also revealed plans to allow non-teachers to “have a go” at teaching in a bid to boost recruitment rates.

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) annual conference in Birmingham last week, Damian Hinds said that proportion of teachers working part-time was smaller than the population as a whole – and that this needed to change.

“As people’s working patterns change, so it is increasingly important that schools are able to adapt their working practices so that teachers are able to have the greater flexibility that is becoming more and more important throughout our country,” he told an audience of about 1,000 school leaders.

“There is proportionally less part-time work in teaching than there is in the workforce and the economy as a whole and we are going to need to change that.”

It comes as schools face on-going teacher retention challenges. Research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in November warned that, between 2010 and 2015, the rate of working-age teachers quitting increased from 10.8 to 11.8 per cent in secondary schools. We are also losing more experienced teachers with the proportion of full-time teachers older than 50 in all schools falling to 17 per cent in 2016.

The NFER identified the potential of flexible and part-time working for boosting staff retention rates. Its research found that in 2016, one in four teachers (26 per cent) in the primary sector worked part-time compared to about one in six (18 per cent) in secondary (SecEd, 2018 & 2019).

However, Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, told SecEd that the nature of teaching made it “inherently more difficult to make flexible”.

He explained: “The trouble with teaching is you have got a group of 30 children who need someone to be there, so it becomes very difficult to think about flexibility,” he said.

One route being explored by ministers is job-sharing, and the Department for Education (DfE) is in the process of creating a new job-share matching service.

Mr Barton said this was to be encouraged, but that job-shares made the already challenging teacher recruitment market even more pressured.

“The more you say yes to part-time learning, the more you make the problem of recruitment bigger – we would need even more people if we started agreeing to more people being part-time,” he said.

“That is not to say we shouldn’t do it, but ultimately the only solution to this is we need more people to choose to become teachers instead of choosing to be accountants or management consultants.”

According to 2018 figures, the government missed its latest teacher training recruitment targets in most secondary school subjects (SecEd, 2018). Mr Hinds told the conference that he wanted to explore new ways to allow non-teachers to “have a go” at teaching, to see if it was the right career for them.

He explained: “Back when I was on the Education Select Committee, we did an enquiry into attracting retaining and developing the best teachers, and we asked lots and lots of school leaders how they know who is going to make a great teacher.

“You would always get this great long list of how you don’t know – people would say you can’t tell from interview, you can’t tell from CVs, you can’t tell from their educational background, the way you know ... is by seeing them teach.”

Similarly, Mr Hinds said, people only really know if they can “stand up in front of 28 children and inspire them ... if you have had a go”. He added: “I would like to find more ways for more people to just try being in a classroom and see if it is right for them.”

Mr Barton said this was a “new direction for the DfE, but a welcome one” – adding that he only got into teaching because while at school, his head of sixth form had asked him to teach a year 7 class and it turned out he “really liked it”.

He continued: “There is so much mythology about teaching – about what it’s like to be in a room with 30 adolescents. It probably sounds terrible. But actually, if you have the right mindset and the right communication skills and passion for it, it is extraordinary and maybe there are ways we can embrace that.”

One possible route, Mr Barton said, could be to pay university students – particularly those studying maths, physics or modern foreign languages – to return to their old school to work as teaching assistants during their holidays: “That gives them a taste of teaching before they finish their degree, and I think there is some significant work we could do around that.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Hinds announced that he is setting up an expert advisory group to look at how teachers and school leaders “can be better supported to deal with the pressures of the job”.

The group will listen to the concerns of teachers and school leaders before making recommendations to the DfE, local authorities and multi-academy trusts to “raise awareness of the importance of wellbeing in schools and share good practice, advice and support”.

Mr Hinds told the conference: “Like any really important job, teaching comes with its own challenges and, while rewarding, I don’t need to tell you how stressful it can be. As a society there is a much greater level of understanding about mental health and wellbeing and it is something many of you raise with me when I visit your schools. While those conversations are focused on supporting your students, I’m clear that your wellbeing is also something we need to prioritise.”


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