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Teachers need greater flexibility over working patterns

Report calls for better part-time options in schools to address recruitment and retention problems

Published on 26th October 2017

The National Foundation for Educational Research has urged greater flexibility for teachers’ working patterns in a bid to address recruitment and retention problems.

The government and stakeholders in the secondary sector need to urgently look at identifying ways in which more and better part-time working can be accommodated in secondary schools, a report by the NFER states.

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said of NFER’s findings: “For many teachers, balancing a demanding work environment with a personal life can be challenging. As our report suggests, one solution to this issue is greater flexibility. Identifying ways in which more and better part-time working can be accommodated in secondary schools could help to alleviate teacher supply challenges in England. Offering part-time opportunities to teachers may not only improve work-life balance but also attract back former teachers into the profession.”

The report found:

  • Secondary teachers who are employed part-time tend to have higher rates of leaving the profession than part-time primary teachers, as well as full-time teachers
  • Primary schools seem to be better able to accommodate part-time employment than secondary schools.
  • One in four teachers in the primary sector is part-time compared to about one in seven in the secondary sector.
  • Additional teachers will be needed to cope with the rising number of secondary school pupils, at a time when retaining teachers is one of the top challenges faced by schools.

The report states that as workload is cited as one of the reasons for teachers leaving the profession, greater flexibility over working patterns may incentivise former teachers to return to work part-time. Part-time opportunities may also encourage current teachers who are at risk of leaving the profession to stay.

The report calls for the government to explore why the rate at which older teachers have been leaving the profession increased between 2010 and 2015 and explore whether they could be incentivised to stay in the profession longer, particularly in subjects with specialist teacher shortages.

There appears to be little evidence to date that multi-academy trusts (MATs) are better able to retain teachers by providing opportunities to move within their structure. Leaders of MATs should do more to promote the benefits of working in their organisation to their teachers; for example, by raising the profile of the MAT as the structure that teachers belong to.

The teacher supply challenge in London is particularly acute when compared to other geographic areas. Policymakers should look at how policy interventions, such as housing subsidies, could help to retain teachers in high-cost areas, the report recommends.

Carole Willis added: "We recognise there could be logistical challenges faced by schools in accommodating more part-time teachers, but finding a way to overcome these difficulties may provide a major boost to teacher supply.”

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said: “Improving flexible working opportunities in teaching is certainly important in supporting teachers at all stages of their careers to remain the profession. NASUWT research and casework shows that too many teachers are being denied their rights to flexible working. Spurious arguments, feeble excuses and blatant discrimination are being used to turn down requests.

“Even when teachers are granted flexibility, there are countless cases where unfairness and exploitation flourishes, with many teachers still expected to undertake work related activities on days they are not supposed to be working, invariably without payment.

“However, addressing this discrimination is only one part of the solution to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Effective action to support flexible working must also go hand in hand with measures to drive down the excessive workload which is affecting all teachers and which is at the heart of why rising numbers are leaving the profession,” she concluded.

 

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