This blog is a shameless mix of academic data, first- and second-hand experience, stories and speculation. But I think it’s an issue that hasn’t had the attention that it deserves, and I hope that by voicing it, I can start a dialogue and prompt others to share their experiences… and start a process through which we can begin to see part-time working at ALL levels of teaching as a valid, valuable and reasonable way forward.
In a recent survey for my Doctoral research on balancing parenting and teaching, of 1603 respondents, 28% of respondents (all teacher-parents in UK maintained schools) said they were working part-time at the time of the survey. There was a distinct gender split, with 33% of the female respondents saying they were working part-time compared to 9% of men. 87% of the respondents agreed with the statement, ‘teachers should have the opportunity to go part-time at key points in their lives/careers’. Whilst and overwhelming 97% agreed with the statement, ‘I feel the job I do is worthwhile’, in response to the statement, ‘I have a healthy work-life balance’, 56% either disagreed or strongly disagreed. 71% of respondents indicated that they regularly experienced feelings of guilt that they are neglecting their duties at home and 63% indicated that they ‘regularly felt stressed, depressed or overwhelmed when balancing work and family.’
Last week, at the #womened conference, Nancy Gedge ran a workshop entitled ‘Making the Most of Part-Time Working’. There were some really inspiring stories of supportive and enlightened employers, job-shares at Headteacher level, and some myth-busting around the demon-job of timetabling (‘I did it in the middle of the night whilst breastfeeding… and no, I’m NOT superwoman!’), there was an underlying not of frustration and something approaching despair.
Part-timers, we acknowledged, were frequently perceived as less committed than our full-time colleagues. We’ve all heard (and possibly used) the phrase, ‘you part-timer’ to insinuate that our colleagues are a little feckless, a little less overwhelmed by work than the rest of us. It was generally perceived to be fine to be part-time at mainscale teacher level, but the further up the career ladder you climbed, the less likely you were to be ‘allowed’ to be part-time.
So, why part-time?
There was a near-assumption that all of us around the table at this #womened seminar were parents. This appears to be the most widespread and most ‘acceptable’ reason for going part-time. Before and since the conference, I have observed that teachers already established in a role had little or no problem going part-time when a baby was due, but that finding a part-time role in a new post was nigh-on impossible.
Teacher approaching retirement are another group for whom going part-time is recognised as a valid move. But I have heard little to no discussion of other reasons for going part-time. Whilst we would acknowledge that we celebrate our teachers having lives and interests outside school, I remember we were all somewhat gobsmacked when a colleague went down to four days a week to pursue his musical interests. When we start to think of it, there are numerous reasons why a teacher (or indeed a middle- or senior-leader) might want to be part-time. Caring responsibilities, a passion or interest, academic studies… Yes this discussions seem to rarely take place and these options appear to be rarely explored.
Through a mixture of serendipity and mixed-fortunes, I have landed on my feet, with a part-time middle leadership role which allows me to develop new skills and embrace new challenges whilst at the same time pursuing my Doctorate, exploring possibilities around writing a book, and engaging in other exciting freelance opportunities. And – yes! – they’re not babies anymore, but being able to take my children to school and pick them up and stand in a muddy field watching my youngest playing football has improved my well-being immeasurably. The only issue is that my post was always going to be temporary. In fact, I find myself hoping to return to SLT – I have the qualifications and skills to build on, and I loved the whole-school responsibility. But I really, really want to stay part-time. And even some of the most enlightened people I known have snorted, scoffed and laughed at this hope. Why is it so outrageous? To apply for a new SLT role and ask for a day to pursue my research – should it really be so out-of-the-question?
The case against part-time working
‘I had two children and NEVER went part-time,’ said a colleague and Deputy Head to me the other day. There was a note of triumph and something approaching defiance there. As teachers, think we are sometimes guilty of being almost competitive about our working hours as an apparent reflection of our commitment. To have gone part-time – would that have meant to give in?
Of course, for many parents, the cut in salary which comes with going part-time is simply not justifiable. I have worked with numerous colleagues who were effectively – and amazingly willingly – actually paying for the privilege of coming to work.
‘You can never be a part-time Head of Year.’ The words of another deputy. The students need consistency. You need to be there when they are. In a pastoral role, perhaps there is an argument here. Shared classes are also, apparently, a nightmare, not just for timetablers but for the students. And yet, at A Level, we actively promote multiple teachers with their multiple skills. Yes, it requires greater organisation, tighter communication and a bit more hard work to establish rules and boundaries, but is it that much of a disaster? After all, I’ve found that students build the strongest relationships with students who see them as ‘whole’ human beings with lives and families and interests.
The case in favour of part-time teachers
We are undergoing a serious crisis in teacher retention and recruitment. Isn’t this a bit of a no-brainer? How many potential teachers/leaders are we losing through lack of part-time opportunities. Is there, as @EquitableEd points out, a brain-drain happening?
Part-time workers have the capacity to have richer lives which, I would argue, in turn as the potential to make them more complex, interesting role models in the classroom.
Happier teachers are better teachers!
And, get this one… we’re CHEAPER for schools!
So, here it is. I’m a fully qualified and competent Assistant Headteacher, and I’d like a job in SLT. But I’d like to work part-time, so I can pursue my academic studies, work on a book, continue with my freelance opportunities and – yes! – take my children to school and football and occasionally cook an edible meal from scratch. (Should I, however, want to be part-time so I could attend Pilates, have a pedicure, and train for a 10k, this would be nobody’s business but my own.)
Am I really chasing flying pigs in stubbornly pursuing this dream? Are there other professions with models that we can learn from here?
Let the debate begin.