How to offer flexible working to attract outstanding staff and boost retention: case study

An innovative timetable enables Manchester Communication Academy to offer flexi days, staggered start times and part-time working – contributing to a 90% staff retention rate. Read on for ideas about how to implement flexible working in your school.

Last reviewed on 2 September 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
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  1. The school's approach to flexible working
  2. Developing a simple timetable
  3. What does a typical week look like?
  4. Offering flexi days
  5. Budgeting to enable flexible working
  6. Benefits of introducing flexible working
  7. Introducing wider wellbeing initiatives 
  8. Tips for other schools

The school's approach to flexible working

Part-time work and flexible hours for staff have been a priority for Manchester Communication Academy, a secondary school with 1,200 pupils on roll, since it opened in 2010. The school has 126 full-time staff (100 teachers), of whom 21 work part time (including 12 teachers). All staff are on permanent contracts.

The school's vision is to mitigate the effects of social disadvantage in the area. One way of doing this is to remove any barriers, such as restrictive working patterns, that could prevent the recruitment and retention of the very best staff. 

Its approach to flexible working is to:

  1. Adapt systems and processes, such as the timetable and cover arrangements, to allow for flexible working and encourage outstanding teachers into the school
  2. Welcome part-time, flexi-time and job-share applicants when recruiting. The key question for the school is ‘What can this person offer our pupils, and how can we support them to do this?’
  3. Help any staff whose circumstances change, by adapting the timetable where possible – for example, if a staff member needs to care for an elderly relative or support a young family

Developing a simple timetable

Thanks to its size and the layout of the buildings, the school is able to organise itself into faculties. This means it can offer a simple, formulaic timetable that allows for flexible working and shared planning opportunities, without restricting the range of subjects offered.

  • The school has 6 faculty areas – maths, English, science, creative arts (including technology), global understanding (including history, geography, religious education and modern foreign languages), health and wellbeing (PE, fitness and cookery)
  • The timetable has 3 periods every day from Monday to Thursday, and 2 periods on a Friday
  • Each year group is timetabled to 1 faculty area per period (for example, all year 10 pupils will be in maths for the first period on a Thursday)
  • This means each faculty has 2 free periods every week – 4 "free" hours in total, which departments use to co-plan lessons, moderate each other or do subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD)
  • The timetable is staffed with a ratio of 1 teacher to approximately 20 pupils, as well as support staff
  • The timetable is adjusted on a case-by-case basis to make free periods fall earlier or later in the day for those staff members who need to drop their children at school or have other commitments

In addition, teachers are contracted to deliver two 1-hour after-school and/or breakfast clubs each week. This removes the need to rely on a "volunteer culture" and ensures that pupils are exposed to wider opportunities.


Daily timetable

Manchester Communication Academy daily timetable
Source: Manchester Communication Academy


Whole-school weekly timetable that shows the 'faculty' system 

Manchester Communication Academy weekly timetable
Source: Manchester Communication Academy

'Pot 1' and 'pot 3' in the timetable correspond to exam options choices and/or additional English or maths. 'Venture' is a slot for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, health education, or careers guidance.

Timetable planning process

  1. Planning for the next year's timetable begins in the summer term
  2. Staff are told when planning begins so they can advise of any proposed changes to their working hours
  3. The SLT and subject leaders consult with part-time staff about which days they would like to work, and then mark these up
  4. The SLT allocates periods and slots in the timetable to faculties, year groups and staff
  5. Faculty leaders distribute periods to subjects
  6. Subject leaders then allocate classes to teachers, in line with their given teaching hours
  7. All planning is usually completed by the beginning of July, so everybody knows in advance which groups they will be teaching and when

What does a typical week look like?

For a full-time teacher, the working week runs as follows:

  • Monday to Thursday: 8.25am – 3pm. They teach for less than 80% of this time
  • There is no daily tutor time. Pupils meet with their progress leaders once a week, on a Wednesday afternoon
  • Friday: 8.25am – 12.30pm. Pupils go home, and between 1pm and 2pm, teachers take part in weekly whole-school CPD or independent professional development
  • There is a whole-staff briefing on Monday to celebrate professional and personal achievements, beginning at 8am. Teachers invite pupils to this to perform or give a talk (for example, one pupil spoke about how it felt to be a ‘low ability’ pupil). The atmosphere is one of positivity
  • Teachers also deliver their 2 after-school or breakfast clubs each week; for pupils, it's compulsory to attend 2 such clubs each week

Rules and requirements for part-time staff

Check the rules for part-time teachers' working time and when you can and can't expect part-time staff to attend meetings and training.

Part-time and job-share staff

Most part-time teachers work fewer days in the week, rather than shorter days. All teachers are involved in collaborative planning sessions. The school tries to avoid split classes as much as possible. 

For example, 2 members of the maths department share the teaching of years 8, 9 and 10. One works Monday to Wednesday; the other works Wednesday to Friday. They say:

  • It's important to have time together with your colleague on a Wednesday afternoon, to reflect on the week so far and plan ahead
  • At the beginning of term, both members of staff establish their objectives for the term and decide who will be covering which topics on a medium-term plan 
  • Pupils are aware that their teachers meet to discuss progress and behaviour. At the beginning of a lesson, teachers review the previous lesson with pupils and explain any feedback given, to help maintain consistency between staff
  • Pupils take assessments on the day chosen by the department. Usually the person who takes the test also marks it, although the teachers tend to help each other out
  • They alternate the marking of pupils' books every week

Offering flexi days

Each member of staff is given 1 day off per year during term time, to spend however they wish. They must book this at least 2 weeks in advance.

There is no cover board or cover supervisor, and the simple timetable means that most cover lessons can be taken by a member of staff from the same department. Occasionally the SLT has to refuse requests, but this is rare because the staffing ratio supports the opportunity for staff to have a flexi day.

Budgeting to enable flexible working

  • Approximately 75% of pupils qualify for pupil premium funding, enabling higher staff-to-pupil ratios that ensure disadvantaged children get the attention they need
  • Being open to part-time and flexible working means that the school spends less money on expensive supply staff, and/or on sickness pay
  • The school has reduced its supply cover budget by 73% for the 2017/18 academic year, and this is improving year-on-year
  • The school cuts back in other areas so it can prioritise flexible working – for example, it doesn't have a large back-office team, and the principal doesn't have a personal assistant
  • The school buildings are relatively new and so do not have high maintenance costs

Deputy headteacher Susan Watmough says that it's essential to look at the "bigger picture" when it comes to making funding decisions about staffing (e.g. cutting back on long-term sickness pay or supply staff), and to use this to justify your choices to governors.

Benefits of introducing flexible working

  • The school is fully staffed, with specialists in all key areas
  • A staff survey revealed that staff are happier:
    • "[Flexible working] means that I can have quality time with my child and fit the job I love around her. It has in no way affected my career progression, as I have recently become head of science"
    • "Now I work part-time, I can spend time with my family and still plan and deliver lessons to a high standard"
  • Retention rates are good – less than 10% of staff left the school in the 2017/18 academic year, many to pursue teacher training or further education, or take up a promotion elsewhere

Introducing wider wellbeing initiatives 

The school has a strategic leader of both staff and pupil wellbeing to define clear outcomes for any initiative introduced.

Susan acknowledges that, in the past, the school has "done wellbeing wrong". It has learnt that initiatives should address the day-to-day issues teachers face that may have an impact on their wellbeing or ability to manage it.

When introducing a wellbeing initiative at your school, ask yourself:

  • What are staff members’ regular, day-to-day stresses?
  • How can we mitigate them within school?

For example, Manchester Communication Academy offers a staff-only bistro and workroom, access to the school nurse and counsellor, and an ironing service which is run by community partners.

Tips for other schools

  • Regularly step back and analyse your systems and processes, such as your recruitment and leave policies, to ensure you aren't inadvertently deterring great job applicants
  • Consider extending or adjusting your school day to allow for an earlier finish once a week for CPD or shared planning time 
  • Carefully assess any wellbeing activities you introduce to check they will have consistent, positive benefits on staff members' everyday stresses

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