The fifth  #WomenEd unconference highlighted the need for flexible working to become standard in schools, says Vivienne Porritt. But she admits that won’t happen without collaboration and a willingness to innovate

When 300 women and men gathered at Sheffield Hallam University recently for #WomenEd’s unconference, values-led discussions were the hallmark of the event. They included how teachers and leaders could do the job and have a life, especially a family life.

We didn’t orchestrate that; rather, the focus emerged across many of the conversations in workshops.  Our members want to work in schools that value their staff and respond to their needs, in a way aligned to their personal values, and they are prepared to search for schools – or other career avenues – that offer them such a culture.

We heard stories that highlighted the sad effect of a mismatch between personal values and school culture. We also heard maddening stories of outright sexism. So while it is pleasing to hear that 5 hours of workload a week have been cut in the past three years, this is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to stem the exodus of experienced teachers and leaders from the profession, especially women aged 30-39.

#WomenEd are a partner in the DfE’s advisory group for flexible working, and we welcome the publication last week of new resources outlining its benefits for teachers and schools. Our goal is to start collaborative conversations by curating case studies highlighting the benefits of a wide range of flexible working practices across all types of schools.

Our case study template is designed for senior leaders to talk with each other to share policy, involve stakeholders, agree co-headship or compressed hours or, importantly, how to afford such solutions.

Teachers want to work in schools that value them

True to our values, the template is simple so as not to add too much to workload. But workload is about more than the hours we spend doing things; it is also about the quality of the investment we are making in that time, and this initiative couldn’t be more valuable an investment.

We want case studies to help senior leaders see how other schools ensure positive impact from flexible working practices, and we invite respondents to indicate the practices they have used and to share contact details. The summary of practice is short, and focuses on the benefits of flexible working for individual, organisation and pupils.

If longer case studies are available, of course, we will signpost them too, but while the aim must be that practices are available to all colleagues, we recognise that some schools will need to start small.

#WomenEd are collating these case studies with partners including ASCL, NAHT, Flexible Teacher Talent, the Centre for Education and Youth, Whole Education and the Chartered College of Teaching who are starting to upload case studies on an open access webpage that we aim to launch by the end of October. They will be supported by research, reports and other resources to enable teachers and leaders to understand how flexible practices can be managed to benefit all concerned.

So far, the majority of case studies received are from schools led by women, but recruitment and retention of teachers and leaders is an issue for all of us. This work can only be enhanced by case studies from male teachers, senior leaders, governors and trustees. As Helena Marsh and Caroline Derbyshire emphasise in 10%braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education:

‘In the English education context, where one in three teachers does not remain in the profession beyond the first three years, retaining teachers is a top priority. A flexible working arrangement might make the difference between a teacher feeling that the work-life juggle is manageable and feeling so overwhelmed that they give up on the profession entirely.’

Readers can contact Vivienne Porritt at viviennept@hotmail.com or contact her on Twitter to receive the case study template. Look for @ViviennePorritt or @WomenEd.