Tell us about your flexible working arrangements:
We have a wide range of flexible working arrangements at all levels, from senior leaders to our support staff.
The most common is reduced hours to accommodate family circumstances or provide work and family commitment balance. More unusually, we have an assistant head who lives in another part of the country and works virtually for most of his 3 day a week role. He travels to London for face-to-face working for one week every half term. We frequently accommodate temporary changes to hours to enable people to manage high-pressure situations in their home lives i.e. around children or elderly family members.
part-timeFlexible working has allowed us to manage succession planning better by using ‘phased retirement’, with teachers and leaders gradually reducing their days over years so that they can continue working for longer but at a pace that suits them. Teachers returning from maternity leave to part time working can opt to have their PPA at home, meaning that the school benefits from an uninterrupted block of teaching time because PPA is additional rather than within their teaching days. Some of our team use their non-working time flexibly i.e. choosing to work this time if it benefits the school or their own working pattern. They are then able to either ‘bank’ the extra hours and use them at a pre-agreed time or ask for the hours to be paid. Over time we have seen that our team are considering their working patterns in a much more reflective way and so we have better-timed information about recruitment needs.
Tell us about your school's flexible working culture:
It has developed at a more rapid pace during Covid because of the pressure on people’s lives. There is a sense that this impetus will continue. Our culture has changed so we are treating flexible working as an opportunity rather than a loss. We recognise that people will be able to work more effectively and their working life will be sustainable if they can shape their role to create the best balance for them. This will look different according to each person. As a school we are developing a much more ‘fluid’ approach to workflow- looking at what suits our workers and our context. We are moving to a more flexible, person-centred approach to workforce by considering the ‘value-added’ that each request for flexible working could bring versus what the impact could be if that person could not continue to work in the way they are now, therefore potentially leaving the organisation or being less effective or happy in their role.
What procedure and systems do you have in place to maintain a sustainable flexible working culture?
We ask anyone considering making a request for flexible working to have a conversation with a senior leader first so that senior leader and teacher are aware of both the immediate and broader context. They are then asked to complete a form which includes the opportunity for them to reflect on the potential positive and negative impact of their plans and also practical solutions as to how this could work. The form is then discussed by the strategic leadership team to ensure there is a 360 perspective. At this stage a timeframe which suits the school is attached to the request, and formal feedback is given to the requestor and anyone else likely to be affected. This also ensures that payroll variations are done systematically and cannot be overlooked.
Advice for colleagues considering flexible working:
Make sure you have considered the impact of the request (both positive and negative) on your colleagues and workplace and can articulate why and how the requested change will make a positive difference. Be sure that you can manage your role if working in a different way- consider information sharing, consistency and workload management.
Advice for schools when embedding a flexible working culture:
Be open to dialogue. Re-program yourself to be able to see the potential value-added as well as the potential loss. Make sure your systems allow for transparency so that there is an opportunity for everyone to see what the organisation can offer. Be clear about what you can’t offer/when it is not the right time.
How can we make flexible working normalised?
Talking in a range of contexts about how it can work. Re-calibrating our own take on flexible working as leaders, so that we see the benefits of flexible working with greater clarity in terms of creating the best workforce within the constraints of current life. Explore the possibilities - thinking outside the box and innovating.
What aspects of flexible working are not practical for schools?
Like any area of school life, different aspects of flexible working will look different according to the individual organisation and so challenges will also look different. There is an obvious need for physical presence and consistency in schools, and so balancing this within the arena of flexible working is a primary consideration. Some roles which are very ‘font facing’ i.e. premises will be harder to accommodate