Flexible working costs ‘hinder’ schools, DfE study finds

While school leaders believe benefits of flexible working do outweigh costs, some express concern on short-term finances

While school leaders believe benefits of flexible working do outweigh costs, some express concern on short-term finances

Headteachers believe the benefits of flexible working do outweigh the costs – but financial constraints could be a “hindrance” to schools improving their approaches, government research has found.

Under a commitment to help schools improve their flexible working, the Department for Education commissioned IFF research to look at the perceived costs and benefits by teachers and leaders.

A small sample of 40 schools offering some flexible approaches were interviewed, alongside a survey of about 600 schools in December 2021.

It found that leaders “generally” felt it helped “retain good staff and improved teacher wellbeing”, leading to better pupil outcomes.

They also felt it was positive for staff and mitigated teachers leaving the profession, especially during the staffing crisis.

The most important factors for schools when considering requests were related to pupil experience and the logistics of running the school.

But “many leaders” pointed out short-term financial costs, even if there may be longer term benefits or savings, are challenging for schools “given their budgetary constraints”.

Researchers said this could be “a hindrance to schools improving their approach”.

For instance, some schools reported National Insurance and pension contributions rising up to £4,000 per year – but for others they saved up to £3,800.

This was “largely dependent” on the pay scales for the staff working flexible, the research said. Some schools said they also saved on supply teachers by having flexible staff.

However, leaders found estimating the financial cost of staff time much harder.

Researchers also said schools “do not explicitly measure or track the financial costs or benefits of their flexible working provision”. So it’s hard to say for definite what the financial implications are.

Many leaders also said they would not “openly advertise” the ability to work flexibly, instead considering it on a candidate-by-candidate basis.

31 out of the 40 schools did not have a formal flexible working policy in place and “many respondents” did not “actively promote flexible working opportunities”.

“These respondents felt that flexible working could generate problems and administrative burden; while it was felt that these could be overcome, there was no desire to proactively incur them.”

But one school did incorporate it into their wellbeing policy. The head told researchers this positively impacted morale and was a “useful tool in recruiting new, high-quality staff”.

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