Many women consider teaching after having children. They are often drawn by the idea of giving back and the perception that teaching is a flexible profession with holidays that match their children’s.
Those in teaching know that, despite the holidays, teaching can in fact be quite an inflexible profession. Yet it needn’t be that way.
Two sisters who are doing something about that are Charlotte Dagg and Julia Crane who run the Flexible Teaching website which offers flexible teaching options to schools and teachers. They started working on the project earlier this year and launched their website just before the summer holidays.
The two come from a family of teachers. Their parents are both teachers and Julia is herself a teacher. Charlotte, who runs the business, has a background in sales and left her job in the tech industry due to a lack of flexible working, taking a career break to look after her children.
Charlotte and Julia realised getting flexible working in teaching was more of a challenge than they thought it should be. Julia says: “There is a perception that teaching is flexible and that legally head teachers should consider flexible working. In theory it should be flexible and the will is there, but in practice it often doesn’t happen because schools, especially those under scrutiny, feel it is a bridge too far. Head teachers don’t have the time and head space to fiddle with the jigsaw pieces as they have so many other things on their plate. It’s much easier just to employ people full time, but there are a huge percentage of teachers who have left the profession because they cannot manage full-time work. There’s a recruitment crisis, but teachers who want to work are leaving. It doesn’t make sense.”
Since they launched just before the holidays, the first phase of their business has focused on recruiting teachers who want flexible working. In addition to finding flexible work for teachers, Flexible Teaching offers coaching services to help teachers negotiate reduced hours for themselves and they advocate for them with schools. A big focus for the site is promoting career pathways to leadership for flexible teachers and Flexible Teaching’s coaches offers early career support which is crucial for getting a leadership position in the future. “The point we are making,” says Julia, “ is that people who work part time, who are generally women, should have the opportunity to progress so that they have the cv and confidence to step up later in their career.”
She points out that the majority of newly qualified teachers are female, but the majority of school leaders are male.
Julia says there is a pattern with regard to many of the teachers who come to them, the vast majority of whom teach in secondary schools – many are young mothers who are ambitious and want to continue in teaching, but have been told that they will have to take a step back to do so or not teach their specialist subject if they want flexibility.
“There is this idea that it’s not good for the children, but in secondary schools continuity is not such a big issue as it is in primary school. What matters is to have a good teacher,” says Julia.
From September Flexible Teaching will work more with schools. It offers a targeted, personalised approach to find schools the teachers they need. Charlotte says that schools can spend a lot of money on advertising and get very few or no candidates coming forward. Flexible Teaching can source experienced teachers, has a national job share register and knowledge of what makes a good match. They are interested in innovating in terms of job shares to offer schools and teachers the best deal, for instance, matching older experienced teachers nearing retirement with NQTs. They also offer a good advertising deal. “It is important that we are offering schools a fair deal,” says Charlotte.
From September too Flexible Teaching plans to start promoting flexible champions, identifying good practice around the country. “It makes a huge difference if there is a positive attitude to flexible working from the leadership team,” says Julia.
She refers to the National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter’s 10-year career plan, unveiled earlier this year. “It was good,” she says, “but there was no mention of maternity leave. In those 10 years from newly qualified status to leadership it is likely that many women will have to take maternity leave.” Sir David has since defended this omission in a tweet, saying that “there is no reason why a great school shouldn’t take [parental leave] into account”. The fact remains, however, that it was not included in his plan. Julia says: “By not including it the leadership model is fundamentally sexist.”