Education secretary, Justine Greening, has announced plans to encourage teachers to work flexibly.

The plans announced include:

  • A pilot programme to explore how schools are already boosting the careers of part-time teachers
  • A pilot to bolster the Women Leading in Education coaching offer, so women can continue to obtain professional development support
  • Updating current guidance on flexible working to make it easier for schools to know what works.

Speaking at a summit bringing together leading figures from the education sector, Greening commented: ‘It is important that we recognise there are many great teachers who would welcome a more flexible workplace, whether as parents themselves who want more options on how and when to return to the workplace, or for staff later in their careers who may also want to better combine staying longer in the profession with other interests.’

She continued ‘This is already happening in many other sectors – it’s vital we ensure it is happening in our schools, too, so we continue to attract the best and brightest into teaching. And, given this disproportionality affects women, it’s a smart way to help close the gender pay gap.’

Official statistics shows a 4.8% gender pay gap for secondary school staff and 1.9% for primary school and nursery staff.

It is likely that this initiative will apply only to the state sector, rather than the independent sector although this will be consumed.

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Existing provisions

Despite the government’s intended aim, it is important to note that currently all employees with at least 26 continuous weeks of service with their employer have a statutory right to make a request flexible working. This applies to teachers and support staff in Academies, maintained schools and the independent sector. When you receive an application which meets all the qualifying requirements, you must consider the request in a reasonable manner and in a timely fashion and can only refuse a request for a stated business reason.

It is important to consider such applications in detail to see whether the request is feasible. A failure to do so can prove costly – not only can you lose valuable staff who cannot work full time because they have significant care or other responsibilities, it can be a turn-off for potential job candidates and could lead to claims of sex discrimination. Even if a member of staff is not eligible to make a statutory request, you should consider whether you can accommodate their informal application according to the school’s operational needs.

Although it is true that some types of flexible working, for example, home working, do not necessarily lend themselves well to some roles in schools, there are other options that could work well, such as part-time work, job sharing or staggered hours.

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