Case study: Part-time working in the secondary school

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Flexible working is seen as one of the key solutions to the recruitment and retention challenges facing schools. Emma Lee-Potter speaks to part-time maths teacher Peter Jerrom to find out how it can work in practice

Maths teacher Peter Jerrom worked in investment banking for 18 years before deciding to switch from finance to education.

Today, three years into his teaching career, he is one of a growing number of part-time teachers in primary and secondary schools – a way of working he believes has enabled him to become a better teacher and spend more time with his family.

In England, the proportion of secondary teachers now working part-time has hit 20 per cent in 2018/19, up from 17 per cent in 2010/11 (Worth, 2020). Meanwhile, data from the Department for Education’s Teaching Vacancies service revealed earlier this year that more than one in 10 teaching jobs advertised on the government website are flexible roles.

Flexible working is seen as the key to tackling some of the recruitment and retention issues facing schools, with options ranging from part-time roles and job-sharing to flexi-time working and compressed or staggered hours.

Part-time posts bring benefits for teachers and schools alike, including improved wellbeing, work/life balance and morale, the retention of experienced teachers, a more diverse range of staff and development opportunities for existing staff (see NFER, 2019; SecEd, 2019; SecEd, 2018).

Today’s heads are far more amenable to part-time working than in the past.

“For the first 10 years of headship I was pretty averse to offering part-time roles,” said former headteacher and Leadership Matters founder Andy Buck. “It just felt like it made things too complicated for us to manage as a school. But in my latter years, I saw the power of being more flexible. We retained our very best staff for longer and people were more effective as they had roles that suited their own lives.

We are in a wider job market that increasingly offers employees this greater flexibility and we need to reflect that if we are to attract and retain the very best people in our profession.”

Peter Jerrom is a part-time maths teacher and head of year 12 at Oasis Academy Shirley Park, an all-through school in Croydon. He is based at the secondary site, where half of the year 7 to 13 pupils are eligible for free school meals and a significant number of parents and carers earn less than the London living wage.

Throughout his banking career he had always “wanted to give back at some point” and he was one of the first people to sign up for Now Teach, a programme that supports career-changers to become teachers. For him, one of the many attractions of Now Teach was that it offers a compressed one-year, four-day-a-week training programme for school-based trainees.

Mr Jerrom is full of praise for his school and the way they have supported his decision to work part-time from the start. He worked four days a week during his training period and the arrangement continued through his NQT year and beyond.

The school has a number of part-time teachers, including four of the nine-strong maths department. When the school’s former headteacher returned to work after maternity leave she opted to work part-time herself.

“She told me she was inspired to do it because of the example we have set,” said Mr Jerrom. “Part-time work is now starting to be normalised, rather than it being different.”

It is crucial for part-time teachers to manage their time effectively and luckily, Mr Jerrom’s earlier career taught him a host of useful lessons – in particular the importance of being “incredibly time efficient”.

At the time of writing, before the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Jerrom works on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Thursdays off. He uses part of his day off to do his lesson planning and schemes of work.

“Even though it’s unpaid it’s my choice to work for half a day on my day off,” he said. “Because I am in my office at home I can spend more time thinking about planning my lessons without distractions. I can take stock, spend time reading books about teaching and follow things like #edutwitter and research-led conferences.

“I attend more personal and professional events and ultimately have more down time. It means that when I’m in school I can concentrate on maximising my time. However, I have to be strict with myself on my day off. It’s easy to spend all day planning, tweaking slides and thinking about teaching but you need to switch off occasionally.”

He also believes that working part-time has helped his teaching practice: “Teaching – although incredibly rewarding – can take it out of you,” he said. “Undoubtedly the biggest benefit of part-time teaching is that I can be a calmer, better teacher, which I think is of great benefit to the students and for my own teaching experience. Because I have a day off from the pressures of a complex inner-city comprehensive I am more relaxed when I go back into school.”

His wife and two children have also benefited from the fact that he now has a better work/life balance. He has taken up rugby again and regularly goes to the gym.

“When I was an investment banker I was available 24/7 and had my phone by my side all the time,” he said. “There are occasions on my day off when I am involved in a conversation about a child we need to make an urgent decision about, but my wife thinks I’m less stressed than I was in investment banking.

“I coach rugby and football outside school and when I meet parents they say I am significantly less stressed than when I was monitoring the markets on a minute-by-minute basis.

“Part of the reason why I became a teacher was that I wanted to spend more time with my family. Now my children see me every day.”

However, part-time working has its challenges. Timetabling can be complex and schools need to figure out how part-time arrangements will work best for everyone involved.

“I worked together with the timetabler and the head of department to think about how my part-time arrangement could work for the school as well as me,” said Mr Jerrom, who has ambitions to progress to senior leadership and headship. “We had to plan carefully to make sure that the timetable worked for pupils and other staff members.

“The other downside of part-time teaching is not being able to communicate with children and staff every day of the week. You sometimes miss the heartbeat of the school.

“I have taught for three years now and I’m getting better at teaching and planning all the time. I would recommend part-time teaching 100 per cent. My experience of working flexibly has been fantastic and I love it. Schools should encourage part-time teachers. Pupil numbers are going up but the number of teachers is staying relatively consistent so we need to find other ways to bring other people into the workforce.”

Tips on working as a part-time teacher

  • Make sure you manage your time effectively.
  • Don’t simply use your day off as an unpaid day of work. Take a break. Be strict about what you do on your day off and perhaps take up a new hobby.
  • Part-time teaching requires willingness from both sides to make it work.
  • Schools need to think carefully about how part-time arrangements will affect timetabling.

Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education writer.

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