The outsourcing company Capita is in line to run the government’s national programme to deliver a flexible working “culture change” in schools.
Schools Week understands the private firm is the preferred bidder ahead of schools that have run a similar scheme for the past 18 months.
Eight flexible working ambassador schools helped others to improve their part-time employment offers as part of a £480,000 scheme that ended last month.
The Department for Education has been looking for a contractor to run a roll-out of the programme – to include 12 ambassador schools – until March 2025.
The contractor would deliver a “strategy for culture change and promote the programme across the sector” in schools and multi-academy trusts. It would also run workshops and webinars.
Schools Week understands that while a consortium of existing ambassador schools, teaching school hubs and education consultants were among the bidders, Capita is set to be awarded the £768,000 contract.
The DfE said it had not finalised any contract and further detail remained commercially sensitive until then. The programme is expected to be launched in spring.
Issues with private DfE contracts
But there have been recent problems with private companies running DfE contracts.
Ministers launched a “lessons learned” probe into Capita over a £107 million contract to run SATs and Randstad was axed from the National Tutoring Programme.
Improving flexible working in schools is a key part of the government’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy. A further pledge was made to “champion” it in last year’s schools white paper.
A government report published yesterday found heads believe the benefits of flexible working – such as retaining good staff and improving wellbeing – generally outweigh any costs.
But short-term financial constraints, such as national insurance, could be a “hindrance to schools improving” their approaches. However, researchers found schools “do not explicitly measure or track” the costs or benefits of provision.
The latest DfE workforce data shows 29 per cent of women teachers work part-time, compared with 35 per cent of all UK female employees.
Male teachers also lag behind with 8 per cent working part-time compared with 11 per cent of men nationally.
Schools recognise ‘unquantifiable cost’ of retention
Charles Dickens Primary Academy in Southwark, south London, was one of the flexible working ambassador schools. It worked with nine schools in the south east and south London, held four webinars and spoke at national events.
Emily Crow, deputy director at the London South Teaching School Hub, said it supported schools “to recognise the unquantifiable cost of retaining staff and expertise, better pupils outcomes as well as the actual cost of recruitment and training when employing”.
To continue its impact, Crow said a financial incentive from the government for participants could be beneficial. For instance, schools and MATs completing the DfE’s behaviour hub programme receive up to £9,000 of funding.
Timetabling was a focus for Michael Scott, the head of Newport Girls’ High School, the West Midlands ambassador school. A teacher had requested flexible working but the school’s timetable administrator was not sure how it could work.
“We used pens and paper as well as timetabling software to show how it’s possible to achieve,” Scott said. “It’s about exhausting every opportunity.”
The DfE has surveyed schools involved and is evaluating the impact.