Posted on 10.4.19 by Danielle Ayres
Long school holidays and family friendly working hours have always been regarded as the great perks of being a teacher.
Yet an increasing number of women are struggling to stay in the profession because they are being refused the option of working part time. Some even face demotion after making a request to cut their hours.
An expert panel event organised by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, found that flexible working requests from teachers were not being accepted in large numbers of schools.
And according to panellist Danielle Ayres, an employment lawyer with Gorvins Solicitors and one of the country`s leading experts in workplace and maternity discrimination, even where requests for flexible working were accepted, an application to go part-time often led to a loss of status.
She said: “This could mean a demotion from positions such as Head of Year or a department and the loss of associated responsibilities.
“In fact the whole issue is fraught with issues. For example another prevailing problem seems to be that when one half of a job share leaves, schools seem to take the opportunity to employ one full-time teacher rather than advertising for a part-time replacement. This means the other member of the job share would be left with the difficult choice of either going full-time or leaving.`
One woman who contacted the panel said that she had reached `rock bottom` trying to achieve a work/life balance. She said:
“Since having children I’ve been made to feel [by the school that] I’m no longer capable of doing the job I’ve done for 10 years now. With my first son ( 19months currently ) I was constantly bombarded with messages and phone calls asking to return to work before my MAT leave ended due pressures within the school. I was then promised ( verbally ) that if I was able to help them out I would be able to do a job share with another teacher ( an ideal situation for the both of us ) . I ended up going back when my son was only 5 months old and god it was hard….. felt so guilty. Anyway to cut a long story short the promise fell through and my request for a job share was denied.”
She added that after reapplying for the job it was given to another woman – one without a family. The contributor concluded that she was now thinking of leaving the “job she loved”
According to figures released by NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, nearly half of women teachers who have requested flexible working have had their request denied by their employer
Further figures this year revealed that 28 per cent of women teachers work part-time compared with the 40 per cent average for all UK employees.
Meanwhile the number of teachers working in state-funded schools in England has fallen to its lowest level since 2013
Last year, 451,900 full time equivalent teachers were working in English state schools, compared with 457,000 in 2016.
The Government has been trying to address the issue facing teachers who want to go part-time.
The Department for Education’s recruitment and retention strategy states it is “more important than ever that teaching is compatible with having children and a family life”.
To help boost the number of part-time teachers, the Government is creating a “find your job share” website that will support teachers looking for job share partners.
Other experts on the online panel event included representatives from Return to teach – an organisation which matches experienced teachers with schools who offer flexible working, and Flexible Teacher Talent, which supports teachers wishing to work flexibly
According to lawyer Danielle Ayres one of the challenges is that employees only have the right to make one flexible working request in any 12-month period.
“That`s why it`s best to raise the issue informally first and test the waters with management through that route. This then provides a basis for any formal request to be made and can head-off any detrimental impact which management suggest or believe may occur should they agree to the request.”
Michelle Thomason, a teacher and doctoral student, who also advised on the panel, added:
“Not many professions have more qualified people outside of it than working within it. Sadly, the teaching profession appears to be one of them. With retention figures dropping year on year for the last five years, and with nearly half of all teachers entering the profession now likely to leave within five years; work-life balance is cited as one of the principal reasons why teachers leave the profession. More needs to be done, and can be done, without a complete re-think of roles, it just requires a little bit of creative thinking and some juggling of logistics, meaning that teachers can get the flexibility they crave.”