Flexible working for schools
Over the past 18 months, the working environment has changed for so many professionals. Roles that were previously bound to the office have now moved towards a more ‘hybrid’ way of working, where employees are able to work both in the office and from home.
This change in attitude towards flexible working has had a positive impact on the work-life balance of so many...but what about teachers?
How has the working environment changed?
For many professionals worldwide, the pandemic has flipped the once traditional office-based role on its head. Where once, employees were expected to be tied to their desks five days a week, there has been a sudden surge of flexible, ‘hybrid’ and home-based working roles.
Some employers have been forced to adapt amid the pandemic since being told to ‘work from home where possible’. Some of these changes include:
- Providing suitable equipment for home working
- Attending team meetings online
- Training taking place over Zoom/Team
- Investing in new technology to support online working
Not only have some employers made these changes permanent, but employees have come to expect flexible working arrangements as part of their job roles.
How did teachers adapt to teaching from home?
Teachers were no different during the pandemic. They took the classroom home and adapted to make sure children still received the best education possible from the comfort of their kitchen table – and of course, some teachers still went to work each day to teach key worker children. So how did teachers adapt?
- Planned and prepared online learning
- Set daily activities through online portals
- Marked and assessed learning
- Attended staff meetings and professional development online
- Conducted parents evenings via Zoom/online portals
- Collaborated with other staff members and educational professionals
As teachers ourselves, we know that children learn best in the classroom alongside their peers...so of course, some flexible working arrangements are just not practical for schools. But, can it be improved?
What do teachers have to say about flexible working in schools?
We asked our Instagram followers a range of questions about how they felt about flexibility in schools and whether the pandemic has had an impact in comparison to other professions. Over 300 teachers took part in our survey, with 40% of them having children themselves.
Do you feel teaching is a flexible profession?
With summer holidays and short working days, teaching must be a flexible profession, right? Most teachers would say they have heard this said before, so let’s officially set the record straight: the average teacher works between 10-11 hours per day with many spending a proportion of their time off planning and preparing for the next academic year.
Many would be surprised to hear that 60% of teachers we asked said that they don’t believe teaching is a flexible profession, with only 6.9% saying it is.
Has the pandemic improved the work-life balance of teachers?
For many professionals, the pandemic has caused a shift in attitude towards the infamous work-life balance - but what about for teachers?
Over 80% of teachers agreed that the pandemic had not had a positive impact on the work-life balance of teachers, with some even commenting that it has made pressures and expectations worse. Some teachers commented:
“Nothing has changed except expectations have increased due to so much lost learning.”
“Because of lockdown, they had put on extra pressure on us to close the gaps - which meant working longer hours.”
“Higher expectations from school and dealing with mental health issues of parents and children.”
“It might happen in the future when the pressure of ‘catch up’ isn’t there.”
Do you think flexibility in schools could be improved?
It’s with no surprise that 90% of teachers felt that flexibility in schools could be improved, with many offering up suggestions on how to achieve this. These included:
- Allowing teachers to work from home during their PPA time (planning, preparation and assessment)
- Parents evenings via Zoom/online portals making it easier for parents.
- Virtual staff meetings and training
- Being more open to part-time working/job shares
- Allowing flexible start/end times to allow teaches to do pick up and drop off of their own children
It seems that many professions have had a work-life balance revolution since the start of the pandemic. In contrast, teaching seems to have been left behind. With a major union survey reporting one in three teachers plan to leave the profession within five years, it’s more important than ever to listen to teachers and consider moving with the times.
We spoke to Emma Turner, DfE flexible working ambassador and author of ‘Let’s talk about flex’ about the importance of flexible working for teachers.
“Flexible working is not necessarily the silver bullet for recruitment and retention but it is an as yet much unexplored avenue in many parts of the sector. The automatic association of flex with part time, and the lack of representation of flexible working practices and examples at the most senior levels in education show that there is much scope for developing approaches to flex for all workers in all roles. Flexible working encourages and enables many more colleagues to remain and develop within the profession who may otherwise have left due to caring or parenting commitments...The pandemic has shown us that we can work differently and be agile and innovative in our working practices.”
Flexibility in teaching is even more important for those who are parents themselves. Female teachers during Covid have had to adapt in order to continue their duty to their class but also continue to parent and support their own children.
It is no secret that the majority of teachers are women, making up over 75% of the teaching workforce. Flexible working requests often coincide with women having children. One teacher we spoke to commented:
“On returning from maternity leave, I fully expected for my flexible working request to be declined as previously my headteacher had told me that he was running out of part time posts...It feels like school is run like a business rather than prioritising the wellbeing of children and staff.”
Is the future flexible for teachers?
These findings show that, in order to retain hard working teachers, attitudes towards flexible working needs to change.
“Now is the time to build on the momentum, skills and knowledge around flexible working and ensure it becomes an integral part of our recruitment, retention and staff development strategies.” Emma Turner - Author of ‘Let’s talk about flex’
Find your region’s flexible working ambassador here.
Interested in hearing more from Emma Turner? Check out her book ‘Let’s talk about flex’.