The NASUWT believes that flexible working has a vital role to play in helping schools and colleges recruit, retain and motivate teachers. There is a significant body of evidence that shows the benefits of flexible working, such as increased productivity, a more motivated workforce, greater employee engagement and greater diversity amongst the workforce.

This advice and guidance has been produced to assist NASUWT representatives and members when dealing with flexible working requests and any subsequent appeal, should a school/college refuse a request, by setting out a number of evidence-based arguments that will help to build a case for and encourage the adoption of flexible working in the workplace.

For each of the most common reasons where a request for flexible working has been denied, a response is provided to help address these misconceptions.

It should be noted that this advice and guidance should be considered in conjunction with the comprehensive advice and guidance produced by NASUWT in regards to flexible working.

Common objections/misconceptions associated with flexible working requests

‘Flexible working is not compatible with a career in teaching’

It is a misconception that flexible working is incompatible with a career in teaching. Evidence shows that flexible working is associated with benefits in schools, including supporting staff wellbeing and work-life balance, as well as productivity and job-life satisfaction.

‘Flexible working is not for those in more senior roles/flexible working will affect my career progression’

Anyone can consider flexible working as an option, irrespective of what role they hold and there are many examples of successful flexible working arrangements for those working in senior management roles.

Further details can be found on the Government website.

Another significant misconception which should be challenged relates to the notion that flexible working is not compatible with career progression, particularly given that this has the potential to be seen as an equalities issue.

Flexible working that is well thought out and designed should enable teachers to reconcile work and caring responsibilities.

In addition, as women are currently more likely to have caring responsibilities, research suggests that offering flexible working at a senior level can enable women to progress, reflecting their skills and potentially reducing the gender pay gap.

‘When teachers work part time or job share, it has a negative impact on attainment’

A great deal of research has been undertaken looking at the factors that affect attainment. These include economic disadvantage, ethnicity, disability, gender and whether a child has been in care or has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). [1]

Currently, the research, as well as analysis of attainment and the attainment gap, has found no link between teachers who work part time and the academic achievements of the children they teach.

For example, a 16-month study working with eight secondary schools across three multi-academy trusts (MATs) to explore ways to champion and deliver flexible working found that there was a consensus amongst all the school leaders of the participating schools that good student outcomes depend on the levels of job satisfaction, motivation and quality of the school workforce and that offering flexible working is a powerful means to achieve these.

In addition, research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) involving interviews of school leaders to explore their experiences of part-time and flexible working found that, in some cases, part-time or flexible working could help to sustain subjects attracting small numbers of pupils that would not require a full-time teacher.

If demand existed for a subject that could be matched with a teacher who wanted to work flexibly, schools could continue to offer these subjects, thereby meeting both the needs of the pupils and the teacher wishing to change their working hours.

Furthermore, a report carried out by CooperGibson Research on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE) found that, when implemented well, flexible working (e.g. job shares) can provide pupils with the opportunity to learn from different teachers.

For example, research by the NFER referenced a school leader who described how two geography teachers were employed on a part-time basis. One specialised in physical geography and the other in human geography. As such, the school was able to use both teachers’ expertise to best effect by deploying them to teach to their respective area of strength.

A case study of practice at Huntingdon School in York, where half of the teachers work part time, notes that there is no difference in the performance outcomes for split classes at GCSE or A level.

Recent research with school leaders noted that flexible working helped to retain good staff and to improve teacher wellbeing, which was perceived to ultimately lead to better pupil outcomes.

Furthermore, in schools that offer flexible working, just under three quarters of those surveyed (74%) agreed that flexible working improved the overall productivity of teachers and leaders. A majority (58%) also agreed that flexible working helped to reduce absences.

In conclusion, the research (pdf) suggests that the biggest factor in improving pupil outcomes is the quality of teaching and flexible working policies can help to recruit and retain the best teachers in schools/colleges.

‘Flexible working is only for those with parental or caring responsibilities’

Flexible working is no longer limited to those with parental or caring responsibilities. Indeed, individuals of all ages across all sectors of the workforce expect to work flexibly.

For example, research by the NFER suggests that the proportion of new graduates in professions similar to teaching, who reported mainly working from home, increased rapidly from 15% (2018/19) to 44% in 2021/22.

In addition to parental and caring responsibilities, flexible working can support the following:

  • phased retirement;

  • returning from a career break;

  • combining work in a school with professional development;

  • volunteering; or

  • work-life balance.

‘Flexible working only means part-time’

Schools/colleges need to appreciate that flexible working is not limited to part-time or job-share arrangements. There are a range of other types of flexible working, such as:

  • Varied hours:
    • staggered hours – the employee has different start, finish and break times;

    • compressed hours – working full-time hours, but over fewer days; and/or

    • annualised hours – working hours spread across the year, which may include some school closure days, or where hours vary across the year to suit the school and employee.

  • In-year flexibility. These types of flexible working are sometimes referred to as ‘informal’ flexibility:
    • personal or family days – days of authorised paid leave during term time, to which allemployees in a school are entitled;

    • time off in lieu – paid time off work for having worked additional hours; and/or

    • home or remote working – the teacher carries out work off site. For example, planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) may be conducted off site.

Indeed, the DfE’s Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders Survey found that four in ten teachers and leaders (40%) reported using some form of flexible working arrangement themselves, whether formal or informal.

‘It is too expensive to grant flexible working’

Detailed economic analysis and calculations show that the financial benefits of flexible working greatly outweigh any initial costs associated with it.

For example, the Pagmatix Advisory Flex Model, published as part of the Flexonomics Report in November 2021, calculated the estimated net benefit to the economy of increasing flexible working in the education [2] sector by 50% to be £5 billion.

In addition, the same report calculated that the cost to organisations in the education sector of employees leaving their job earlier than they would have is £300m. This includes the cost to replace staff that leave, as well as loss of productivity from losing more experienced staff. This cost is a real risk to schools that routinely reject requests for flexible working.

Indeed, NASUWT’s Being a Parent and Teacher Survey found that 72% of teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession because of the impact of their work commitments on their children. This is an issue that could be addressed through greater opportunities for flexible working.

Furthermore, research by CooperGibson on behalf of the DfE found that enabling flexible working could help schools to retain teachers who would otherwise leave the role, or retire early.

Furthermore, three quarters of surveyed teachers (76%) reported that they would be more likely to remain in the profession long term if they could work flexibly.

Indeed, the DfE’s Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders Survey showed that those working flexibly were more likely to report feeling satisfied all/most of the time with their job and feeling valued by their school. It was noted that those who reported experiencing stress in their workplace were less likely to report working flexibly (36%).

In addition, 85% of leaders working in schools offering flexible working agreed that flexible working had a positive impact on overall teacher and leader wellbeing.

Those working flexibly were also more likely to report feeling that their manager was considerate of their work-life balance and that they were trusted to work independently.

‘Granting flexible working will mean recruiting more staff to fill the gaps and there are challenges in recruiting teachers’

While the challenge of recruiting teachers in some circumstances is well documented, there is a growing body of evidence which shows that offering flexible working opportunities has the potential to alleviate some of the recruitment challenges faced by schools and colleges.

For example, NFER research into the experiences of school leaders of part-time and flexible working identified several benefits, including increased teacher retention and recruitment.

53% of leaders surveyed (pdf) said that flexible working helped to attract a greater number of candidates, whereas 82% of surveyed leaders (in schools that offer flexible working) agreed that it had helped to retain teachers and leaders who might otherwise leave.

In addition, further research conducted by the NFER showed that a lack of part-time and flexible working is an important factor in some secondary teachers leaving the profession, as well as preventing others from returning.

‘Granting flexible working will mean recruiting more staff to fill the gaps, which is expensive’

A 16-month study working with eight secondary schools across three MATs to explore ways to champion and deliver flexible working found that headteachers did not feel cost was an issue.

Indeed, headteachers generally felt their recruitment and retention figures were improved, which mitigated against any conceivable costs.

Research suggests that the benefits of employing teachers working flexibly go beyond cost comparisons and management time. If flexible working arrangements are successful and experienced employees are retained, the reduction in cost from recruitment and induction could offset that cost.

Other research has confirmed this by suggesting that the benefits of flexible working were generally seen to outweigh the costs. The overriding theme from school leaders was that flexible working helped retain good staff and improve teacher wellbeing, which was perceived to ultimately lead to better pupil outcomes.

‘It will be too time-consuming and difficult to organise flexible working patterns’

The Teaching Pioneers Programme addressed this theme in its 16-month study and found that whilst it was clear that headteachers did spend time enabling more flexibility, it was widely perceived to be part of their commitment to staff in their role as school leader.

‘There is not enough parental support for part-time teachers’

The DfE’s Parent, Pupil and Learner Panel 22/23 (November wave), surveying the parents or carers of pupils across a range of themes, found evidence that parents are accepting and supportive of part-time teachers.

Indeed, the majority of parents (62%) reported that job-share arrangements had either a positive impact or no impact on their child.

In addition, parents or carers whose children were taught by a teacher or teachers on a job-share arrangement were asked about the impacts of such an arrangement. Just under half of parents/carers (46%) identified the fact that their child experiencing a range of teaching styles was a positive outcome, while others perceived the benefit of their child being able to build relationships with different personalities (45%).

Furthermore, a third of parents/carers (33%) taking part in the panel reported that their child was able to go to more than one teacher for help and support with their learning, with 19% referencing this in respect of wellbeing.

It should be noted that research has shown that parents/carers in the UK are supportive of teachers as a profession, as well as the individual teachers who teach their children.

For example, the Global Parents Survey found that British parents are among the most positive from across 29 countries surveyed, with almost nine out of ten (87%) rating the quality of teaching at their child’s school as being very good or fairly good.

The same study showed that, when asked, 70% of British parents stated that if there were additional funds for their child’s school, they would spend it on more teachers or better pay for existing teachers.

As such, there is very little, if any, evidence to validate the notion that parents do not support the part-time working of teachers.

Indeed, international evidence demonstrates that parents are supportive of teachers who work part time. For example, in the Australian state of Victoria, evidence from school principals suggests that some parents actively request their child being placed in a class where a teacher is job sharing.

Flexible Work in Victorian Government Schools (pdf) also references the importance of school leaders and teachers discussing the benefits of flexible working with parents.

‘It is too difficult to timetable for part-time teachers’

While timetabling for teachers who wish to work part time or job share does require a methodical approach, the benefits of offering flexible working far outweigh this. Not only does it provide teachers with better work-life balance, but flexible working can also provide pupils with the opportunity to learn from different teachers, as evidenced in research undertaken by CooperGibson on behalf of the DfE.

There are also many examples that demonstrate ways in which timetabling can be carried out to accommodate flexible working requests. For example, research by the NFER highlighted the following:

  • requests being made in advance make it much easier to accommodate teachers’ wishes – some school leaders say the ideal timing would be a request made in the spring term to take effect in the following autumn. This allows time to work out what would fit with the curriculum and timetable;

  • asking staff to commit to the agreed working pattern for the whole of the school year; and

  • instead of expecting part-timers to teach all the content of their subject area, some school leaders report it being more efficient for each teacher to focus on a different aspect of their subject. For example, two part-time teachers, one specialising in biology and another in chemistry and physics, share the teaching of a combined science course.

In addition, setting an appropriate date by which requests for flexible working should be submitted provides enough time to plan the timetable, as well as allow for discussions amongst staff to take place, so as to increase the likelihood of requests being granted.

Encouraging conversations with members of staff, such as during performance management or appraisal discussions, or departmental meetings, can also be seen as an effect of exploring flexibility, particularly in situations which may require some flexibility in the type of arrangement that can be accommodated (e.g. flexibility around what day the non-working day can be).

‘It is too difficult to work around school procedures and policies, such as meetings and parents’ evenings’

Research by the NFER identified a number of methods to ensure that flexible working requests could be granted, including:

  • negotiating with teachers working part time so that they attend whole-staff meetings/whole-staff training and book these well in advance, ensuring that any part-time teachers attending on a non-working day are compensated accordingly;

  • ensuring that staff meetings are held on a day (per week or per fortnight) when all staff are present;

  • arranging for training to be repeated on a different day for part-time staff if necessary;

  • ensuring that parents’ evenings are scheduled so that they are held when all staff are present; and/or

  • negotiating with teachers working part time so that they are able to attend parents’ evenings on their non-working days, including compensating them accordingly.

In addition to this, there is a way to improve communication, by making sure all staff have access to the minutes of meetings and using a common online portal that could be accessed remotely by teachers to share information, manage pupils’ data and view teaching resources and schemes of work.

‘The governing board won’t approve’

Research undertaken by CooperGibson on behalf of the DfE found that utilising models of existing good practice, as well as case studies, that could be presented to governors could be highly beneficial when seeking to change the culture so that schools/colleges are more open to the idea of flexible working.

Examples can be found on the Government website

Additional information

It should be noted that the DfE’s guidance on flexible working in schools states the following:

‘All employees have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their staff. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness. A clear flexible working policy can form an important part of this duty, especially when integrated with broader staff wellbeing policies.’

In addition, one of the core pillars of the DfE’s Education Staff Wellbeing Charter, a set of commitments from the DfE, Ofsted and schools and colleges, is to ‘champion flexible working’, with a pledge to establish school cultures that support and value flexible working at all career stages.

[1] Closing the Attainment gap, education endowment foundation (2018) and key drivers of the disadvantage gap: literature review, education policy institute.
[2] The categorisation of ‘education’ is from the office for national statistics (ons) uk standard industrial classification of economic Activities.