Following a spontaneous Twitter chat on flexible hours, part time positions and job shares, with expertise provided by Flexible Teaching, we found that many of our community interested in requesting flexible working were not even sure where to start with their Head Teachers and Line Managers.
We would advise beginning with understanding your legal entitlement to flexible working. Firstly, employees – particularly employees with caring responsibilities, or personal health issues – have the right to request flexible working, but employers are not obliged to grant these arrangements if it is to the detriment of their organisation. For schools, this often means whether an employer would deem these arrangements to have a negative impact on student outcomes.
It is important to note at this point, that it is your employer’s decision to pass judgement on your request for flexible working, not your Head Teacher’s. In the majority of cases, the Head Teacher will pass any requests for flexible working or part time hours to the Governing Body, or the Trustees, who will make the decision, but in some cases, especially in MATs, Head Teachers and CEOs have been delegated the responsibility for this. If you’re in any doubt about who does what, it might be a good idea to talk to your Union.
Most school leaders considering the long term benefits with their school have agreed (on Twitter and in these DfE case studies, at least!) that the benefits of part time, job share and flexible hours far outweigh the negatives, but not all schools are in a position to think long term, and this must be understood and accepted. It therefore helps your case greatly to understand that it is your duty to present a ‘business plan’ to your employer, Head Teacher or Line Manager to prove that your intended arrangements will have no detrimental effect on your students’ outcomes – or even better, have a positive impact.
Unfortunately, we cannot (legally) expect our school leaders to come up with these solutions for us, so if you would like these more flexible arrangements to consider, it is worth doing your homework about workable options for you, your family, and the school. A great resource is with the free coaching service offered by Flexible Teaching, an organisation set up this year specifically to support teachers interested in organising job shares. There really is no catch or fee for teachers, and they can provide expert advice on the options that you might be able to present to your leadership team.
However, if you know exactly what you want and just need a few helpfully scripted phrases to boost your confidence stepping into that meeting with your Head Teacher, let’s see how members of The MTPT Project community went about having these conversations that lead to their part time or flexible working arrangements.
Hinal Bhudia (@hinalbhudia) is a Head of Maths at a North London secondary school. Following her return from maternity leave after the birth of her first child, she continued her Head of Faculty position on 0.8 over 4 days.
“When I was pregnant, I was very honest with my Head Teacher, I said I wanted to come back part time but still keep my role. I reiterated this every time we had a discussion so he was clear about what I wanted.
“Whilst on maternity leave, we had a formal face to face meeting in February. My daughter attended the meeting with me! (Head Teacher was fine with this).
“Some of the models we discussed were as follows:
1/ Go back to being a main scale teacher for 1 year, then revert back to Head of Department the year after.
2/ Work 4 days a week as Head of Department.
3/ Work a full time equivalent timetable over 4 days.
“When my Head and Deputy Head looked at the timetable, with my number of frees, there was no way I could fulfil my other duties as a Head of Maths (i.e. support the team, deal with behaviour, complete learning walks and so on) with option number 3, and I agreed with them.
“We then had a telephone conversation in March where we agreed to option number 2: I would work 4 days a week (0.8) and still keep my Head of Department position. We also agreed that my contract would be part time for 1 year only and then revert back to full time the year after – I asked for this and my Head was only too happy to oblige.
“I know I am very fortunate to have a Head of Mathematics role on 0.8 as I know from other teachers that this is not an option in their school. I would advise colleagues asking for flexible working to be completely honest with your Head Teacher. My school have been great in supporting my flexible working request and are continuing to do so now I am back at work. These negotiations and my Head Teacher’s willingness to listen to my requests and find solutions for both of us has made me feel really valued by the school.“
Sue Thaw (@aegilopoides), Head of Science at a Cambridgeshire School requested part time hours whilst a classroom teacher to better manage a long commute, teaching an additional subject and taking care of her children.
“Initially I was full time, but found it difficult with young kids, a long commute and teaching an additional subject. I spoke to my Head of Department and Head Teacher that I was struggling and wanted to work part time. They were very supportive and explained that if the timetable could be sorted then it would be fine; they were confident that they could find a solution.
“During the third trimester I approached my boss about working part time. I was very clear about what I wanted. He took this on board and said that in his experience it was better to make that decision after the baby was born and I was definite about what I wanted. We talked on and off during my maternity leave and he was always very clear that he would take my wishes into consideration. I went in for a formal chat and he told me that the school was happy to give me a 0.6 contract, but that he wanted the reassurance that I’d go back up to full time at some point. I did say that I would but felt a bit pressured by this; however, when my new contract came through it did not stipulate this as a condition of my return.
“Unfortunately when my baby was 10/11 months I was diagnosed with PND and started to get terrible anxiety about going back to work. This, coupled with exhaustion – my baby never slept through – meant that I got to the point where I felt I would have to resign. I knew I wouldn’t cope, teaching ASD/ BESD pupils when I was running on empty. I asked my boss for a meeting and he was amazing: he put me on a (very) phased return of one day a week, building to two then three just before the summer holidays. Plus, he kept me out of the classroom and gave me other responsibilities instead.
“He then left the school but luckily the Deputy who became Acting Head continued to be more than supportive and kept me off timetable, so I’m now doing lots of MLT and SLT bits and pieces as they are taking advantage of my prior experience.
“I have been so so lucky in terms of the support and understanding I’ve been shown by the school. I think this partly comes down to the fact that it’s a smaller Special School where perhaps there is more of a culture of care and understanding than you might find in a large mainstream setting.”
Emma Sheppard (@Comment_Ed) is a Lead Practitioner in charge of ITT working in South London. She requested flexible working arrangements in the run up to her second maternity leave to manage increasing fatigue and the physical impact of a second pregnancy.
“Other than some pretty bad morning sickness in my first trimester and sciatica in the last weeks, I didn’t really feel the physical strain of my first pregnancy. I worked my 50-60 hour weeks up to 38 weeks pregnant and was still travelling around on the tube and attending events on my due date.
“Running around after a 10-18 month old in my second pregnancy, however, made a huge difference to my physical and mental wellbeing. I was tired all the time; lifting and carrying my son aggravated my sciatica and piriformis syndrome to the point where it crippled me, and daily tasks like pushing a buggy, bending down, sitting for too long, standing for too long, changing nappies, bathtime, became either exhausting or excruitatingly painful. I knew enough from my first maternity leave to realise that extreme fatigue could only lead to bad things – I was teary and on some days struggled to put things into perspective and I worried about the impact this would have on my professional relationships and teaching.
“After two days off from sheer exhaustion, I spoke to my Line Manager about how – with four weeks to go – we could get me to the end of term with minimal sick days. My own mother had given me the phrase, ‘reasonable adjustment to hours’ and as my school had already supported me by allowing me to share a form, it was easy to offer two mornings where I could come in later. I knew that sleep was the answer to these problems, and even though my son would still wake me up at 6:30am, my husband does the morning routine, which would leave me the opportunity to doze a little longer.
“My Line Manager was hugely supportive and discreet and I later received an email from our timetabling Assistant Principal informing me of these ‘reasonable adjustments’ and reassuring me that my timetable had been blanked out for form and cover. The formality of this was very comforting and I found that I only used this ‘get out of jail free’ card three times out of the possible eight mornings that I could have come in later. Simply knowing that my SLT were empathetic and wouldn’t think that I was shirking quelled a lot of the anxiety that had stopped me from falling asleep in the first place, or worrying about the impact of this fatigue on my professional reputation.
“I made it to the end of term, 37.5 weeks pregnant, without another day off, and I was really grateful for this slight relaxation in my hours. It meant that I generated less cover and was able to provide more days of quality learning for my students who were also fantastic at showing compassion when I was obviously very tired. I think the thing that made the biggest difference here was that I was able to identify the issue (fatigue) and offer clear ways to resolve it that would have minimal impact on my students and the school structures.”