Do you work part-time in education? Does your school grant flexible working hours?
Happy, organised and loyal: just how we want our teachers to be. But last year almost half those surveyed thought they wouldn’t be in the profession in five years’ time. How could they both stay and attain that elusive work-life balance? In a rare paean of praise for part-timers, I will try to convince you that whether you are a leader or a colleague, you need more of these people in your school.
Fail to come back!
Since I started teaching ten years ago, I have seen many talented and caring professionals leave and not come back. Their destinations are myriad: parenthood, writing, stand-up comedy, mumpreneur. Their reasons are the same: not enough flexibility. Why can’t a working mum start her timetable at 09:30 instead of 08:30, so she can do the school-run for her own kids first? Why can’t a writer have two days off a week to invest in their magnum opus? Why can’t an SLT post be job-shared?
The answer is the ‘the business needs of the school’. Yes, timetabling is increasingly a fine art, but it has begun to take precedence over anything else that a teacher might bring to benefit the school on a part-time basis.
Firstly, there are the organisational skills required to hold down a significant life commitment alongside teaching. You learn to plan your time to the nearest second, to maximise every moment of the school day, to schedule marking into the rare free slots you have and get things done now because there is no ‘later’. You learn how to evidence your impact in a shorter time than most. You learn that the pub might be a distant dream, but you are amazed how much you can accomplish before breakfast! These skills should be celebrated and shared.
Then there’s work-life balance. This isn’t a synonym for laziness or low productivity; instead, it’s a recipe for better mental health. Less stress outside of teaching seems like a good way to avoid passing it on to students, and an even better way to protect against burnout and absenteeism.
This leads to loyalty: ACAS cite a 2012 survey where 72% of employers agreed ‘implementing flexible working practices had a positive impact on staff engagement’. Happier employees are surely more likely to be loyal, meaning that the school retains their expertise and maximises its investment into them. By contrast, high teacher turnover means that a school is constantly investing in training people up, only to lose their investment then pay a hefty bill when advertising for replacements.
A Hoo-Ha Crisis!
Last but not least, remember the teacher recruitment crisis? There’s regularly a bit of a press hoo-ha about it, then it’s quickly edged out of the headlines and everyone moves on. Last year the figures were that ‘almost a third of teachers who began their career in 2010 quit the classroom within five years of qualifying’. The Education Support Partnerships 2016 survey found that 36% of respondents wanted ‘greater job flexibility, including options to work part-time, job shares, and flexible hours’.
So when the mum-of-two or the part-time writer decides something’s gotta give, the loss of their expertise doesn’t just weaken their school, taking from them anyone with strong ties to the real world beyond the school bubble. It forces the government to keep spending money training teachers who will not give back to the state sector for very long.
So how could more part-timers be accommodated in practice? Job-shares are more common in primary schools, but could work just as well with two senior leaders and one SLT post. Flexitime is usually reserved for offices, but why not for parents who want to take their own children to school? A Head of Department who takes the same day off every week for another job such as writing music, caring for a parent or practising stand-up comedy, will bring those skills back to school the rest of the time.
So if part-timers are likely to be well-organised, happy with their work-life balance, loyal and delivering value for the investment of both the state and their individual school, let’s hear it for them and from them. And let’s have more of them.
Written by Rebecca Wildish
Wildish has taught English in London comprehensives for ten years. She lives with two noisy children and an even noisier musician. She is currently employed on a 0.8 contract which is renewed on an annual basis thanks to the good faith of her school.