Part Time in Principle #FEparents

Secret Teacher: an honest reflection from a mum in FE.

Almost a decade ago I swapped Boarding Parent and full-time secondary teacher to part time FE lecturer and new mum. I’d love to say ‘and I don’t regret it one bit’. But that isn’t entirely true.

Part time is great in principle, but often you find yourself working on your day/morning/afternoon off just to keep up. And the meetings that you miss as you desperately try and keep to your part time hours again find you out of the loop on occasions.

With this increasing year on year, I decided to apply for a full-time role. I still had and have to do the odd evening and weekend prep or marking but more often than not, with some careful time management I managed to not only juggle the mum and teacher life but even managed to squeeze in some voluntary stuff that I was passionate about.

Finding June and July almost entirely free of exam classes at FE was also great for my own self-directed Professional Development. I could attend official training sessions or simply read and plan next year’s texts and lessons (I’m an English teacher – A Level Literature and GCSE English resit).

And the problem? Well, it is those pesky holiday things. I am fully aware that those who don’t work in education face this struggle every school holiday, but working in the teaching profession I sort of expected I would get the same holidays as my daughter. Especially when this is the period when all holiday prices for abroad or in the UK are at their premium in terms of prices and availability.

Let’s look at the nightmare of term dates – October half term – since Covid this has been extended to two weeks in our local primary schools. FE is still only a week, however we were awarded a Study Week this year to allow us to catch up on various admin duties that had fallen by the wayside due to the Hokey Cokey style of on site/Firebreaks etc. Not a jet off for a quick extra week in the sun week however. Christmas is entirely hit and miss every year. This year I went back to work a whole week earlier than my daughter’s school as they added in their teacher training days to the holiday period. Colleagues with children in other schools also had a whole host of different days and this year’s flexibility to cover the odd days for colleagues to assist with this was severely stretched.

And then there is the long summer holiday. I can take my annual leave from July 5th…my daughter’s school are in until July 15th. However, whilst I don’t have to take this time off, her summer holiday August sees me have to return in the middle of the month with GCSE results day and then admin weeks from there on. And Holiday Clubs are both difficult to book on – as those parents who don’t work in education are on the ball when booking these in advance and they are surprisingly expensive. Plus the 9-3pm days really don’t work around my 8.30am til 4.30pm working hours. At present my current line manager has been understanding. If we are not student facing during those hours we have been allowed some flexibility, especially if we are parents and during these Covid times. However, for colleagues with different line managers this isn’t always the case and I’m only too aware that for many other FE staff in other colleges, again this flexibility just isn’t there. It is all beginning to change however and not for the better.

The firebreak lockdowns, strict 2m distancing rules and working from home is now finished. The emails to all staff have begun. These are your working hours. You must be on site and available during these times. You must book your holidays a term in advance. TOIL must be taken in the immediate two-week period following and on and on.

This will be my first year in a decade of working in FE where strict adherence to rules is being enforced. It will be my first time as a full-time lecturer where getting my nails done in my lunch hour or leaving to collect my daughter once my lessons have finished is no longer an option. Staff are already grumbling. They feel micromanaged. They feel watched. They feel demonised for unexpected traffic jams seeing them arrive at 8.50am rather than 8.30am even though they aren’t late for their lessons. Anxiety and stress is rising again in a different to COVID way.

As professionals, we work damned hard. We put in the extra hours to support students. We answer emails during our supposed holidays. We do the online training in our ‘free’ evenings. Some of us even attend CPD on our weekends ‘off’. And that is on top of the marking at home time that many of us put in almost every evening.

Allowing us to leave half an hour early to miss the traffic or to use our lunch breaks to pop to the bank or squeeze in a dentist appointment shouldn’t be something we feel a need to formally request and feel awful about. Those Sports Day mornings and Christmas Play afternoons are treated as if you have just requested a skiing holiday mid term because the snow’s good! Nor should it be something that is refused on the principle of everyone needs to be treated the same. Especially when at 3.20pm on the one day a week when I am ‘allowed’ to collect my daughter from school, I see her teachers nonchalantly walking to their cars without so much as a backward glance to see if anyone has seen them or lugging heavy bags of marking to take home with them.

If we managed to worked effectively and efficiently during the pandemic, surely flexibility and working from home can be something that could carry on as a positive going forward? As Richard Branson (Virgin) states

“people will give everything back if you give them the flexibility and treat them like adults.”

This year 2 staff have opted to take ‘early’ early retirement. One member of staff has requested part time for the next academic year with 3 others already opting to go part time due to the parent teacher juggle. I’ve stepped down from my two volunteer roles outside of work and have reached the end of my self-directed professional development journey thanks to these new demands on my time. Retention wouldn’t be such an issue if the flexibility was built in. And staff wellbeing might actually be improved with such a seemingly simple consideration.