What are the benefits to schools when allowing Flexible Working?
There can be many benefits. Staff who are permitted to work flexibly often remain in their current school thus keeping recruitment costs down and expertise/CPD in-house, the school can recruit from a wider number of applicants if flexible working can be considered and, most importantly, the wellbeing and work-life balance of employees can be considered.
Why might staff ask for Flexible Working?
There can be many reasons. Here are a few examples:
- A long-serving colleague may be wanting to retire, but will remain for a year or two on a phased retirement plan
- A colleague may need to care (long or short term) for a sick relative or a child who needs to undergo medical treatment
- A colleague may want a sabbatical or opportunity to engage in more CPD such as the SENDCO award or a Masters in Education or a post at a university or college
- A local school may be very short of expertise in a particular field (e.g. Physics or Maths) and a colleague is interested in working across a couple of schools
- Two colleagues may want to job share a position, splitting the hours either equally or disproportinately
What types of Flexible Working exist?
The DFE defines a variety of flexible approaches as stated below:Staggered hours
The employee has different start, finish and break times.Compressed hours
Working full-time hours but over fewer days.Annualised hours
Working hours spread across the year, which may include some school closure days, or where hours vary across the year to suit the school and employee.Part time
Working less than full-time hours. Not all teachers who work part time choose to do so. This may be linked to subject and timetabling requirements, particularly if they teach subjects for which there is low demand. Employees can work full time but still have flexible work arrangements in place.Job share
Two or more people doing one job and splitting the hours.Phased retirement
Gradually reducing working hours and/or responsibilities to transition from full-time work to full-time retirement.
What does the law say about Flexible Working?
The Employment Rights Act 1996 introduces the formal right of employees to request flexible working following 26 weeks of continuous employment. This is known as ‘making a statutory application’.
Employees are only eligible to make a statutory request for flexible working if they have not made a request to work flexibly within the past 12 months. Employers have a responsibility to provide a response to a statutory flexible working request within three months, including the conclusion of any appeal.
The employee should submit a written application to their manager:
- stating their desired working pattern and the intended start date
- at least 3 months in advance of the proposed change
- setting out ways of mitigating the impact of the request on the school and their colleagues
- including if their request is in relation to the Equality Act, for example as a reasonable adjustment for a disability
Any request that is made and accepted will be a permanent change to the employee’s contractual terms and conditions, unless agreed otherwise. If the employer refuses the flexible working request, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to submit a complaint to an employment tribunal.
For more information about making a statutory flexible working request, see the ACAS guide to the right to request flexible working.
Employees should check their organisation’s policy to ensure they follow the procedures in place for discussing their request with their line manager or head teacher.
If the school or trust does not have a flexible working policy, employees should speak to their manager about what flexible working arrangements are available to them.
Do employers have to consider a request?
Yes. Each request should be considered and a timely response issued.
Schools may have a variety of reasons for refusing flexible working. Quite a few of these in the SEND sector relate to the impact on individual children and in the secondary sector on an inability to timetable to avoid lots of split-teacher classes.
More information on the consideration of flexible working can be found on this website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flexible-working-in-schools/flexible-working-in-schools--2
What can be the challenges to offering Flexible Working?
While the benefits of flexi working, and creating a clear path to enable this shift can be easily outlined, it’s a worthwhile exercise to look at where the challenges may arise ahead of embedding any strategies.
Carefully navigating challenges and adopting a transparent approach to requests, will help not only those who are looking to shift their working patterns, but also the whole school workforce. Maintaining a healthy environment for all staff, considering individuals requests can afford the school greater options in retaining talent, reduce training and recruitment costs, normalise a new way of working and maintain stability in the classroom.
Adapting an existing structure to allow SLT to maintain team dynamic, may need more upfront in terms of creating a space to exchange plans, updates and connections staff members, but can be far more beneficial as a long term plan and a likely easier task than re-recruiting.