Part-time working could offer solution to the retention crisis

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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A report that suggests schools consider teachers working from home, or longer but fewer days, ...

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A major workforce study has highlighted the potential of flexible working and the importance of job satisfaction and autonomy for teachers if schools want to boost their staff retention rates. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Secondary schools are being urged to embrace part-time and even flexible working in a bid to beat the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

Furthermore, school leaders must prioritise teachers’ job satisfaction, focusing on areas such as line management and teacher autonomy if they want to keep hold of staff.

The recommendations are among those in a major workforce study published last week by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER).

The report, which has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that teachers are moving more often between schools and increasing numbers are leaving the profession altogether.

Schools are also losing out on valuable experience, the report warns, due to a notable drop in the number of staff aged 50 or over.

The report contains further recommendations for government ministers and Ofsted, including warnings about workload and stress.

Earlier this year, education secretary Damian Hinds said he would make tackling recruitment and retention issues a “top priority”. However, he failed to address the crisis in his first Conservative party conference speech last month.

The NFER report calls on ministers not to lose focus on their pledge and to make teacher retention in particular a priority.

Chief executive Carole Willis said: “The retention and recruitment of teachers is one of the most important policy issues facing England’s education system today. As pupil numbers continue to rise and teacher numbers do not grow sufficiently to meet increased demand, retaining teachers in the profession must remain a top priority, particularly at a time when government recruitment targets are not being met. This is an issue the government cannot afford to ignore.”

The number of full-time equivalent teachers in England’s state-funded schools has increased from 441,800 in 2010 to 457,300 in 2016, an increase of 3.5 per cent.

At the same time the number of pupils continues to rise. Department for Education (DfE) figures from January 2018 show that pupil numbers in state secondary schools have risen by 69,000 since January 2013 and now stand at nearly 2.85 million.

However, the report confirms that rates of teachers leaving the profession and moving school have risen since 2010.

Between 2010 and 2015, the report finds that the rate of working-age teachers quitting increased from 10.8 to 11.8 per cent in secondary schools. Over the same period, the proportion of teachers moving school has risen more rapidly, from 4.2 to 8.3 per cent for secondary teachers.

The report also warns that we are losing more experienced teachers with the proportion of full-time teachers older than 50 in all schools falling by 23 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2016.

In terms of why teachers quit or move, the findings might not be surprising, but are worth noting all the same. A key finding was a dissatisfaction among teachers about the amount of leisure time they have and their long hours.

The report states: “Teachers have the lowest satisfaction with their amount of leisure time, compared to nurses and police officers. Because of the peaks and troughs of the school year, teachers work more intensively across fewer weeks in the year. Working long hours over prolonged periods, as teachers are doing, can create pressure and stress, with potential negative effects on health and wellbeing.”

It adds: “Unmanageable workload is consistently the most cited reason teachers give for why they leave the profession.”

The report also highlights that job satisfaction might play a more important role than pay in teacher retention and that school and government policies should consider both equally.

It finds that job satisfaction declines in the years before teachers quit the profession and points to previous NFER research highlighting a clear priority for school leaders: “The research has identified the quality of school leadership and management, including teacher autonomy and whether staff feel they are supported and valued by managers, and whether or not teachers feel their workload is manageable, are important determinants of job satisfaction.”

Elsewhere, pay is not considered a primary motive for teachers to leave – with the average teacher taking a 10 per cent pay cut when they quit the profession.

The report adds: “Many teachers take a salary cut in their new job to gain other benefits, such as improved job satisfaction or the opportunity to work part-time.”

It adds that while after “years of freezes and below-inflation increases, increasing teacher pay is likely to improve retention to some degree”, policy responses that aim to increase teacher retention need to “consider pay alongside other factors affecting the trade-offs that teachers make, such as their workload, working hours and job satisfaction”.

The report urges schools to consider appointing a governor or trustee responsible for staff welfare and to “regularly monitor” the job satisfaction of their staff in order to identify potential retention problems. Meanwhile, it asks ministers and Ofsted to consider the impact of their policies on workload.

One solution that seems to stand out from the report – and an area where primary schools lead the way – is part-time working.

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.

The gap is significant even when taking into account the higher proportion of female staff in primary schools.

The report calls on secondary schools to learn lessons from primary practice: “There is unmet demand for part-time working in the secondary sector, which drives some teachers to leave. Making flexible opportunities available for these teachers may have encouraged many to stay in the profession, and return to full-time work later in their careers. Part-time secondary teachers also have higher rates of leaving the profession than part-time primary teachers. Part-time working needs to be a more sustainable option for teachers.”

Furthermore, the secondary school teacher workforce has a large cohort of teachers in their mid-30s, which is when demand for part-time working peaks. As such, the report warns that “the next few years are therefore a critical time for taking action”.

It continues: “Improved part-time opportunities would help to retain full-time teachers who would have left without being able to go part-time, better retain existing part-time teachers, and encourage more former teachers who want to return to part-time roles to do so.

“NFER research found that a lack of part-time and flexible working opportunities is one of the key barriers facing teachers who want to return to teaching.” The report also discusses other types of flexible working, including job shares (currently around five per cent of teachers job share) and the less popular approaches of flexi-time, working compressed hours (longer hours but fewer days) or regular working from home.

Ms Willis added: “We have thoroughly researched the factors associated with teacher supply, which are crucial in assisting policy-makers and system leaders formulate effective responses to this complex issue.

“For example, our evidence indicates that lack of job satisfaction is a key reason why teachers leave the profession. Focusing on improving job satisfaction, and tackling workload and long working hours could be vital for improving teacher retention and to make teaching an attractive and rewarding profession to enter as well as to stay in.”

A report that suggests schools consider teachers working from home, or longer but fewer days, really begs questions about who's writing it....
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