Get flexible to solve the recruitment and retention crisis

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It’s both rare and refreshing to hear the words “intersectionality”, “systemic change”, “call to arms” and “rockets up asses” within the first half an hour of an educational training event. But at headteacher Hannah Wilson’s Flexible Working event at Aureus School on 10th March, we learnt that the education sector must become open to new ways of working if we are to recruit and retain the best staff.

MTPT Project founder, Emma Sheppard discusses ways of managing full-time teaching and parenthood

And let there be no doubt that change is desperately needed. We have a government-recognised teacher ‘retention crisis’, with acute shortages in many subjects. While education secretary Damian Hinds has recently put flexible working on the top of his agenda, there is a very real uncertainty in the sector as to what this might look like in practice.

Hannah is vocal and unapologetic about the change that needs to happen, explaining that women must be allowed to make their own choices and supported to progress to leadership if this is what they want. Recounting how she recently delivered a presentation on the issue of flexible working to a group of two hundred school leaders at the Oxfordshire Headteachers Conference, Hannah urges for a better way to recruit and retain our very best teaching staff.

“You could see the penny drop in the room,” says Hannah. “Let’s recruit flexibly and retain flexibly, and stop the whinging about people not applying for jobs. TES say there’s a 17% increase in applicants when flexible working is mentioned in the advert.”

Attendees successfully complete their first Year Eight timetabling task

A cofounder of WomenEd, the 18,000 strong grassroots movement for gender parity at school leadership level, Hannah now explains to a room of WomenEd members, teachers and leaders from schools across the UK that “flexible working should become the norm” if we are serious about improving recruitment and retention. The attendees nod vigorously as Hannah states the need for “brave leaders, headteachers and governors to recruit and retain flexibly”.

Supported by TES Institute and with training from Edval Timetables, the day has all the high energy and collaborative spirit that make WomenEd events so abidingly popular. Some carrying babies, others with toddlers in a nearby crèche provided by Hannah, the attendees complete timetabling tasks and discuss ways of accommodating flexible working requests with collaborative timetabling models. It shouldn’t just be a “job for the blokes”, it’s decided, since timetabling directly affects the lives of every teacher working in the school and teaching is, after all, a female-dominated profession.

The day ends on a high, with a group photograph (pictured top) taken in ‘power pose’ with various pledges for change hanging in the school hall in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Edval Timetables offer free audits for schools with advice on how to accommodate flexible requests (email, and Teach First’s Lucy Rose is working on an ambitious flexible working project.

In the words of WomenEd member and member of the Maternity Teacher, Paternity Teacher Project, Frances Ashton: “Flexible working is a gamechanger. Anything we can do to demystify and promote it can only help counter the retention crisis.”

[Written by a female timetabler and WomenEd member from London. To find out more about flexible working or to request your school's free timetable audit, email with coupon code 'Innovate18'.]

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