Flexible hours demand scuppers Return to Teaching pilot


One of the largest lead schools in the government’s “returner teachers” pilot says demands for flexible working scuppered the scheme – leaving it with just three of the 23 teachers it retrained.

In last year’s Return to Teaching pilot schools were given £1,900 to retrain and employ qualified teachers no longer working in state schools.

Schools Week recently revealed that the scheme had mixed results, with only three of the 53 lead schools training 20 or more returners, despite funding available for up to 40 teachers in each school.

Bromley Schools’ Collegiate, which provides teacher training across 31 schools in Kent, was only able to offer jobs to three of the 23 returners it trained. A fourth teacher found a job elsewhere.

Derek Boyle, teacher training co-ordinator at the collegiate, said the volume of flexible working requests was a “major barrier” to offering more jobs.

“It was a little frustrating as we knew schools with vacancies. It wasn’t a quality issue, it was more they [teachers] shot themselves in the foot slightly because of requirements on work patterns.”

Other lead schools also said they struggled to offer part-time work to participants.

The disclosure supports previous analysis by Schools Week that found a growing group of “tired teachers” looking for a cut in working hours, rather than a lack of qualified teachers in the system.

It wasn’t a quality issue, it was more they [teachers] shot themselves in the foot slightly because of requirements on work patterns

Recent government data showed 335,000 people with qualified teacher status not working in state schools.

A report by the think tank Policy Exchange, published last year, urged schools to offer flexible working such as “keep in touch days”, and cash retainers to help to tackle the teacher supply crisis.

However Boyle said that a job share – two people who split one full-time position – worked best for schools.

Bromley, with Coombe girls’ school in south-west London, another lead in the pilot, also found that many of the returners who qualified overseas ended up taking teaching assistant or voluntary roles.

Nicholas Power, senior assistant headteacher at Coombe, said eight of the 14 participants it trained were working in schools, although not all in permanent roles.

In the pilot, schools received £1,520 from the National College for Training and Leadership to train a returning teacher in an EBacc subject, and a further £380 if they employed them.

However a second version of the pilot announced in November will now target only maths, physics and modern foreign languages teachers with incentives for schools to enable flexible working patterns.

This pilot, which launches in February for the north west and south east only, requires schools to demonstrate that they can offer the returner a job at the end of the programme. If no positions are available, the school cannot take part.

As a result, Andrew Roach, director of the teaching school at George Abbot school in Surrey said his school would not be involved. “Essentially what you’re doing is an interview process, and at this point in the academic year, when unsure of staffing needs, we cannot commit to that.”

A DfE spokesperson said it was investing more than £1.3 billion over this parliament to attract the “brightest and best” into teaching.

“We are currently working with stakeholders to develop advice for schools on recruiting returners and offering part-time teaching responsibilities, and will set out more information in due course.”

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  1. We are on the fringes of debating a taboo subject which few school leaders will talk about openly.
    The problem with these schemes is that flexible working is what teachers may want, but it’s not what schools want. Both of these opposites are reasonable to each party, but incompatible.
    Let’s not kid ourselves, part time teachers in Secondary Schools make life more difficult for full time teachers who have to carry the extra burden. After maternity leave a large proportion of returners exercise their right to request flexible working. For them and society this is reasonable. When a school has a small number of such part timers it can cope with the additional pressures, and the effect on the students as a whole is small. Above a certain number of part time staff there comes a tipping point where the school cannot function effectively.
    Before we spend more time and money on these flexible teaching schemes which are not going to work, perhaps we could get a group of head teachers to be brutally honest about what they really think of having lots of part time teachers.
    Don’t believe me? Ask yourself as a parent, do you want your 14 year old to have 3 maths teachers or 1 maths teacher?

  2. Debra Kidd

    Teachers “shot themselves in the foot” by asking for part time hours? What an extraordinary and revealing way to describe part time working. How does that fit with work/life balance or rights to family life? Perhaps it might have been a good idea to ask about this before they started training if it was a problem? The training providers, it seems, were happy to take the cash and not so on the ball with checking they were recruiting what schools needed. And perhaps the reality of the teaching workload is such that anyone who has done the job knows that part time is really full time. Unless teacher workload is tackled then all of these schemes to get people in the classroom will fail.