Using our Voices to Promote Flexible Working Opportunities for All #PledgeForChange20

By Kate Smith @MrsKatieSmith

I write this blog just a few weeks after Sir Andrew Carter’s most unhelpful comments about how it is ‘wrong and immoral’ for teachers to ask for their hours to be reduced after taking on full-time jobs.

 

This feels an appropriate place to insert this fabulous Sheryl Sandberg quote? Yes, I think so….

Sheryl Sandberg

Fortunately, within the same fortnight, Barack Obama, former President of the USA, said, ‘that if women were put in charge of every country for the next two years, the result would be gains, on just about everything.’ So that went a little way to re-address my blood pressure, because we know he is right.

As a part time Co-Headteacher, I am an advocate for part time and flexible working patterns for all school staff, regardless of gender, ability/disability, or of their role within the school. I co-lead a rural primary school along with my wonderful work wife, @kimroge1972, who works 3 days to my 2.5. I’ve blogged before about the benefits of Co-Headship and #PledgeforChange 2020 is to use my voice and my privilege as a Co-Head to help encourage more women and men to be courageous in seeking, requesting, applying for and securing opportunities to work part time and work flexibly.

Back in the summer, Education Secretary Damien Hinds wrote for TES encouraging all headteachers to commit to a culture of flexible working in school. This is a great step, BUT we need more than just words – we need leaders to start acting! Mr Hiinds will be pleased to know that we are committed to this pledge and will continue to be when recruiting in 2020 and beyond. Since commencing the post in September, Kim and I have appointed a number of part time teachers/teaching assistants in our small school of 106 pupils. We have approved all requests for a reduction in hours or more flexible working patterns for a number of our all female team. We actively promote and role-model well-being, choice and flexibility as leaders in our school.


It is unethical to deny the statutory entitlement to be able to request flexible working, and despite this entitlement being in place for the last 5 years, we still see teachers and leaders being refused the opportunity to work flexibly. In 2018 alone, 25,300 teachers decreased their working hours and it is not difficult to unpick why. Long hours, low pay, lack of resources, emotionally demanding roles, increase in stress related illness due to workload…..

It’s hard to sell a teaching post as a ‘rewarding’ job these days. We have to offer more, and be more even more creative in offering different roles and working patterns to potential candidates.

It is really positive, however, to see colleagues reaching out on Twitter and through the #WomenEd network for advice on how to apply for part time hours, or request an alternative working pattern. There are now many case studies of how flexible working, including Co-Headships, are working well in schools. It is my #Pledgeforchange20 to encourage more school leaders to consider appointing part time staff and be more supportive of flexible working patterns for their teams.

Being a values based school dedicated to delivering an ethical education has also helped with recruitment. Applicants have responded to our genuine commitment to be supportive, values driven and ethically minded leaders. 100% of the potential candidates that visited our school to look around applied for the posts available and many commented at interview that this was because of the opportunity for flexible working in a values driven school. And we’ve successfully recruited 7 team members since July!

And guess what? You’ll reap the benefits! You’ll see impact! You’ll be able to appoint competent, hard working, highly experienced staff who would otherwise be amongst the thousands of qualified teachers that are not in currently in posts. As a Co-Head myself, I have more energy, more drive and more head space for the job, working part time. I have a balance, and I tell our staff that it is important to have balance. I tell them that self-care is not selfish. I disagree with Sir Andrew’s ridiculous comments about not separating life and work. I have seen headteachers’ workloads destroy some incredibly strong and resilient colleagues. I have seen OFTSED prep triumph over cancelled half term holidays, I have seen staff meetings succeed over attending nativities and sports days. I have seen anxiety and depression and poor choices in over worked colleagues for too long.

The job of a headteacher feels overwhelming at times. Impossible for one person alone? Never ending to-do lists, workload increasing with every meeting or conversation, the mental strength and compassion can be exhausting. Working a shorter week has helped me retain some of the balance. Working part time, of course, doesn’t mean just working part time. It means being paid part time. Every part timer knows this. For me, it’s about having the ability to do my best work in the time I give to do it. Working part time is a compromise, but I have the best chance to flourish and avoid burnout! It’s a personal choice for me because I have other commitments on my non-school working days, commitments that make me grow as a whole person. But overall, and this is key for me, I understand that work is not the most important thing in my life. It took years to come to peace with that, but it has made me a far better teacher, leader, mother, friend and general human being. No one should be expected to absorb their workload into their unpaid time just to fulfill their role and I want to challenge the perception that that is what is expected.

We have a responsibility to show that it can be done another way. Through showcasing the success of flexible and part time working. For the sake of the profession, and for the mental health of our teams.

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