Flexible working: a key solution to recruitment and retention
by Mandy Coalter
In a recent article in Schools Week, Laura McInerney argued that flexible working for teachers would only deepen the current recruitment and retention crisis in a similar way to that of GPs in the last decade. I do not agree with this analysis. We do not know how much worse the GP shortage would have been if demand for flexible working had not been met and the training lead times for doctors make short term workforce planning solutions impossible. I think the issues in the school sector are different for a number of reasons and I strongly believe that flexible working is a key solution to recruitment and retention.
I do agree with Laura that it is not the panacea for resolving teacher workload. I think flexible working is about schools becoming modern and progressive employers able to compete for talent in a competitive labour market. Attitudes are changing fast and many businesses are now being flexible to recruit and retain the best; our sector needs to match this in order to deliver the outcomes for children.
The teaching profession lost 35,000 teachers in 2016 for reasons other than retirement with workload cited as the main reason. It is shocking to see that 1 in 4 teachers leaving the profession are women aged 30-39 and that half of them do not return to teaching. That is a massive waste of talent and tax payers money.
I have heard women teachers tell me that their school will not offer any flexibility, or if they do, it is done so begrudgingly. It is sad to hear that teaching children is sometimes viewed as incompatible with raising your own children.
But this is no longer simply an issue for women with children. Evidence tells us that 92% of people aged 18-34 want flexible working. Is it any wonder then that we are seeing the biggest crisis in teaching training applications for a generation? I speak to many people in the sector that are clear that they would never recommend teaching as a career to their own children. The story and narrative has to change dramatically if we are not to face to worst teacher supply crisis in memory.
Men are increasingly wanting to work more flexibly but often feel put off due to the perceived impact on career and progression. As a sector we are going to need to support older teachers to work longer; partly due to pension age changes but more importantly due to the lack of younger people coming in to train. It is clear that flexibility is key to enabling older teachers to stay.
I totally understand that flexible working for teaching roles is very challenging. Children need a teacher in the class in front of them. But as the DfE research shows schools that are being innovative are finding ways to meet the needs of teachers and still delivering the outcomes for young people. Part time working, job share, compressed hours and occasional working from home are all possible to accommodate if there is the will and foresight to engage. And DfE research tells us that if you offer a teaching role as open to flexible working you will get 20% more applicants - who wouldn’t want that in the current climate?