Lindsay Patience portrait

Written by Lindsay Patience

Lindsay Patience is the co-founder of Flexible Teacher Talent. She is a Teach First Ambassador, a School Leader and a mother.

A recent TeacherTapp question asked how people felt about heads, senior leaders and teachers having a regular day to work from home. Here are the results:

Should HEADTEACHERS be allowed a regular day to work from home?

13% Strongly agree     30% Agree                              (43%)

22% Disagree               22% Strongly disagree             (44%)

Should SENIOR LEADERS be allowed a regular day to work from home?

11% Strongly agree     30% Agree                              (41%)

27% Disagree               22% Strongly disagree             (49%)

Should TEACHERS be allowed a regular day to work from home?

14% Strongly agree     33% Agree                              (47%)

30% Disagree               14% Strongly disagree             (44%)

Obviously, given my love of all things flexible working, these responses left me perplexed and frustrated. Why shouldn’t heads, senior leaders and teachers work from home one day a week? What if they would do a better job if they worked from home? What if that meant we had better retention, recruitment, motivation and productivity in the education sector? Why do more people disagree that senior leaders should be allowed to work from home than they do for heads? What could it be that made people disagree with this?

Is it because they think school staff need to be in school?

Of course, they do. But all the time? Not all of our working time is in front of out pupils. In fact, heads have the least contact time in the classroom or elsewhere with students, so they have the greatest opportunity to work from home. Similar for senior leaders. Working from home is more possible for them because they don’t have so many face-to-face lessons.

The lockdowns showed us (in a very unplanned and unexpected way) that a great deal can be achieved away from the school site. It obviously was not an idyllic situation and outcomes and working conditions were often inferior to what we could have achieved in school, but there were some aspects that showed us we didn’t need to all be on site, all of the time. Staff communication, briefings, CPD, parents meetings, using software for assessment and for meetings and many other things. If we could make some of those things work when we were thrown with no warning into such an unprecedented situation and some of them were effective, just imagine how successful they might be if they were planned and utilised strategically. Working from home is one of those things.

Is it because the more senior you are, the more important it is that you are in school?

Heads and senior leaders often have administrative or strategic work to do that would be better conducted privately, quietly, uninterrupted in a work environment that suits them. This may not be in school. This might also be true for teachers, why does PPA have to be on-site? I have never been able to plan effectively at school. My best planning is when I am at home with time and space to reflect and I find it more conducive to creativity. I mark best in cafes, in fact it is the only place I can productively mark away from distractions at school and home.

Maybe those who disagreed just did so because it doesn’t seem possible?

Full time teachers with 10% PPA get half a week out of class, not one full day. So maybe they interpreted the question as one day a week and immediately said no as they assumed it meant time away from classes?

Or maybe there is something else going on here as mentioned in the Teacher Tapp blog on the findings. They mention the “phenomenon that people typically don’t like it when their colleagues are given a benefit which won’t be extended to them.”

Why did more people disagree about senior leaders than heads? Is it something about the job role? You have to be present and in school dealing with issues as they come up? More important as a senior leader than as the head?

Is it because we just don’t trust people to work from home?

Media coverage of the pandemic showed that there is a sentiment that those working from home rather than the office are not working as hard. There are images of people lounging around in their PJs, looking after their kids at the same time, generally not working hard. But really this just boils down to lack of trust in people as professionals. So what if someone works in their PJs if they still get the work done, maybe they are more productive in their PJs. Accountability is important but it doesn’t disappear when people work from home. They still have to do the work and get the results. Some managers just find it problematic if they can’t heavily supervise and monitor workers and so don’t trust them to work from home. Echoes of this are shown again with Teacher Tapp data from the following week suggesting only 15% of teachers are allowed to have their PPA time off site. Why is this figure so low? Why can’t teachers do their planning, preparation and assessment time outside of school? It is dedicated time when they are not to be scheduled for contact time or other commitments so why can’t they have more autonomy in where and how they use this time?

The positives of working from home

Well, here is why I was strongly agree that some time working from home would be good for teachers, senior leaders and head teachers:

Working from home is more productive

A study by Standford of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increase productivity by 13%. This was attributed to a quieter more convenient working environment and fewer breaks and sick days. Workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and the rate of employees leaving was cut by 50%.

77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time according to a survey by ConnectSolutions.

A study conducted by Ask.com found that 86% of employees prefer to work by themselves when they are trying to be as productive as possible. There are many tasks that would be much easier without constant interruption. Schools are noisy, busy places by their nature. They are also not always particularly well kitted out or designed as staff work spaces.

And in schools, better productivity, means better outcomes for our pupils, but also better use of public money.

Working from home attracts and retains a diverse staff

What if your heads, senior leaders and teachers can’t work full time? What if they don’t want to work full time? Without flexible working, you miss out of candidates, you miss out on diversity, you miss out on experience and perspective and the opportunity for effective succession planning and development.

Working from home makes us happier

Another US study reported that 82 percent of telecommuters said their overall stress level was lower, while 80 percent reported higher morale because they worked remotely. Other reported benefits of working from home include: less commuting time and more time for wellbeing. Time spent working from home can mean more time for hobbies/pets/time with family/exercise. We are better teachers if we are happier, which is better for students, and relationships, and retention etc.

Also, just give the people what they want!  91% of the UK’s office workers would like to work from home at least part of the time. I know teachers aren’t office workers as such but such overwhelming positivity about working from home must be somewhat reflected also in out staff bodies. It is also worth considering that if office jobs continue to offer hybrid work environments but schools do not, it will be harder to recruit career changers and those currently working in schools who are looking to leave may find more attractive working conditions in other industries.

So that turned into quite a long essay in support of working from home! But I feel strongly that if the education sector doesn’t embrace flexible working and make changes to facilitate it then our schools are missing out on diversity, retention, motivation and productivity that is crucial for our children. Working from home doesn’t mean never being on site, flexible working doesn’t mean teachers walking out on a class in the middle of the day. Our traditional school structures don’t lend themselves well to flexible working but more importantly neither do our attitudes and the cultures in our schools. Flex can work in schools, there is a growing evidence base of case studies showing this, but we need to change how we think about flexible working. Embrace the benefits and make changes to allow them to be taken advantage of.

Working from home reads/references

Has the use of VAK changed at all since 2018? – Teacher Tapp

Surprising Working From Home Productivity Statistics (2022) (apollotechnical.com)

How Working from Home Makes People Happier – Remote.co

The productivity pitfalls of working from home in the age of COVID-19 | Stanford News

Ten Facts You Should Know About Telecommuting (baselinemag.com)

Coronavirus: Why some people want to keep working from home – BBC News

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