Since the pandemic, companies have started to develop and implement flexible working policies for their employees, providing the opportunity to combine working from home and in-office throughout the working week. The lockdowns proved that people could work remotely with minimal disruption to their performance, as well as providing benefits such as a better work-life balance, lower travel costs and support with caring responsibilities; overall improving their general mental health and wellbeing. Who’s to say the education sector couldn’t follow suit?
The benefits of being flexible
In December 2020, the government released a publication outlining the Department for Education’s flexible working scheme. It encourages schools and colleges to explore flexible working practices that are responsive to the needs of their staff. Based on findings, flexible working patterns for teachers could minimise the risk of stress-related illnesses that so many in the sector are suffering from. According to Education Support’s wellbeing index in 2018:
- 76% of education professionals experienced behavioural, psychology or physical symptoms due to their work.
- 57% considered leaving the profession in the last two years due to health pressures.
- 47% experienced depression, anxiety or panic attacks due to work.
Due to the extreme pressure the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have put on the education system, it would not be surprising if those numbers have increased. The DfE also identified multiple benefits to flexible working that would improve educators’ wellbeing and potentially solve the teacher shortage crisis we currently face. By improving people’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as encouraging a better work-life balance, consequently you would see better performing teachers. Retaining experienced staff would become easier, colleges could recruit from a broader talent pool and boast a diverse range of staff as well as boosting morale. All of these qualities would make teaching once again an attractive profession, and ultimately provide better outcomes for pupils.
A blended approach to the teaching career
Exploring part-time teaching and job/class-sharing; incorporating staggered start times and compressed or annualised hours may help take a blended approach to a career in education. This method could certainly benefit those who have caring responsibilities, want a phased retirement or are returning to teaching after a career break. It could also allow people to work in a college while working on their professional development through part-time learning. Personal or family days, days in lieu and remote teaching should also be considered. Many colleges have already incorporated wellbeing days into their calendars to encourage staff to look after their mental health.
This would also mean education professionals could make the most of their outside interests, creating strong cultural links to other industries and improving their skillsets. The outcome? Providing more opportunities and better outcomes for pupils.
How can flexible working become a whole-school strategy?
For flexible working to ‘work’, a whole-college strategy should be considered. Offering flexible working to some but not others could cause difficulties and disparities throughout the faculty. A whole-college level initiative that can be trialled and adapted would allow time to consider what would work for the college, individual staff needs and requirements and the overall staffing infrastructure, as well as alleviate potential concerns from parents e.g., their children not having one consistent teacher and disrupting continuity and attainment.
A concern rising from the sector is the cost of recruiting more staff to allow for flexible working (such as two teachers for one job share). However, by retaining experienced teachers and improving the attraction of the vocation, flexible working would inevitably reduce recruitment and induction costs. Thus, education recruitment becomes easier via a larger, more diverse talent pool, therefore offsetting the initial outlay.
The landscape of education is evolving, and the pandemic has fast-forwarded the exploration of remote working and online learning for the world, including the education industry. Will Further Education evolve at the same speed? We can only see.
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About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Now she has turned her sights to a career in writing, with education at the heart of it.