Schools given strategies to help boost part-time working

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Secondary schools can boost teacher retention rates by encouraging more part-time and flexible working, but school leaders must be proactive in their approaches, researchers have said.

This includes being systematic about asking for submissions from staff who want to change working patterns, factoring these requests in to timetable and staffing forecasts, and negotiating with teachers.

The advice comes in a research report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) – the latest in its on-going research into issues of teacher recruitment and retention.

The report estimates that one in six secondary teachers would like to reduce their hours, with one in 12 wanting to reduce their hours by more than one day a week.

NFER’s previous research (NFER, 2018; SecEd, 2018) has found that “a significant number” of teachers who leave the state sector go on to take-up part-time positions elsewhere.

The secondary teaching workforce also has a large number of teachers in their 30s, when the research shows that requests for part-time working often peak.

The NFER is urging secondary schools to learn the lessons from primaries, which are consistently more likely to embrace part-time and flexible working. Its previous research shows that in 2016, one in four teachers in the primary sector worked part-time compared to about one in six in secondary.

Creating a culture that promotes flexible working is also among the priorities identified in the Department for Education’s recent Teacher recruitment and retention strategy (DfE, 2019).

The NFER’s latest report is based on survey responses from teachers and school leaders, analysis of workforce census information and interviews with 19 schools that have adopted – to some degree – part-time working.

It found that perceptions among teachers that part-time working requests would be refused are a key barrier. Around a third of teachers who wanted to work fewer hours (and could afford to do so) said they had not made a formal request for this reason.

However, only 14 per cent of teachers who had made a request were actually refused.

The school leaders in the report said that allowing staff to work on a part-time or flexible basis helped with retention and boosted “teachers’ wellbeing and energy”. It also allows the retention of curriculum and other expertise, and in some cases, can reduce costs.

The report says that a two-week timetable helps to better accommodate part-time and flexible working. Other strategies mentioned in the report include part-time working for recent retirees and sharing a teacher with another school.

Among the barriers for school leaders, were fears over a lack of continuity for pupils, but solutions could be found. The report states: “School leaders attempted to ensure continuity for pupils by minimising the number of subject teachers and form tutors working with each group. Some schools had arranged for teachers to share the role of form tutor, and had increased flexibility by separating registration from pastoral sessions.”

The report also said that schools found part-time working easier to implement than flexible working (which includes job-sharing, flexi-time, working compressed hours, and regularly working from home). However, some schools were allowing home working or flexible hours as part of PPA time.

Another key to success is strong communication and routines, including scheduling staff meetings and parents’ evenings on a particular day of the week and investing in secure IT systems to facilitate information-sharing.

The report states: “Excluding those who said they would ideally like to reduce their hours but cannot afford to work part-time, 36 per cent of secondary teachers and leaders would ideally like to work part-time compared to the 19 per cent who currently do so.

“Schools with high proportions of staff working part-time tended to adopt a proactive approach towards part-time and flexible working rather than responding to teachers’ requests on an ad-hoc basis. They took a systemic approach, which required flexibility on both sides.”

Chris Wilson, business manager at Wadebridge School in Cornwall, one of those contributing to the report, said that they had embraced part-time and flexible working for many years to support staff work/life balance: “As a result, we have found that not only do we have a happier and healthier workforce, but that there can be financial benefits to the school – for example reducing staffing costs.”

Rates of teachers leaving the profession and moving school have risen since 2010. In 2015, 11.8 of secondary teachers quit and 8.3 per cent moved school. We are also losing more experienced teachers – the proportion of full-time teachers older than 50 in all schools fell between 2010 and 2016 (NFER, 2018).

Overall, DfE statistics show that full-time teacher numbers are up (from 442,000 in 2010 to 452,000 in 2017), but at the same time pupil numbers in state secondary schools have risen by 77,000 between 2014 and 2018 and now stand at 3.26 million.

NFER chief executive, Carole Willis, said: “At a time when the number of secondary pupils is forecast to increase by 15 per cent over the next decade, retaining teachers is one of the top challenges faced by schools. NFER’s previous research has highlighted that the profession is losing good teachers due to a lack of flexibility.

“Taking a more proactive and positive approach to offering part-time and flexible working opportunities could help school leaders to retain the expertise of teachers rather than losing them permanently from the state sector.”

Commenting on the report, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “We simply must stem the exodus of teachers from the profession, and one way we can do that is to improve opportunities for part-time and flexible working. It won’t solve the crisis on its own, but it will help, and we welcome the positive and supportive contribution of this report. People increasingly expect employers to adapt to changes in their lives and we must rise to that challenge.

“It is also vital that the government improves teachers’ pay after many years of stagnation, that it funds schools properly, and that it does more to ease the pressure caused by an excessive and morale-sapping accountability system.”


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