Dixons Academies Trust | Teachers offered flexible working at Dixons
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Dixons Academies Trust

How we’re giving teachers a nine-day fortnight

Posted 18th January 2024

Copied from an article written by Luke Sparkes for Tes

Evidence has shown that flexible working can attract and retain more teachers, yet the education sector is considered somewhat antiquated in its approaches to flexibility.

With teachers leaving the profession in droves, and with the Department for Education missing its target to recruit new trainees for the second year in a row, a radical approach is needed to ensure we retain the best talent.

We have a long relationship with flexibility and workload at Dixons. This is rooted in our commitment to self-determination and tethered to our mission. If we are to challenge educational and social disadvantage in the North of England, we are obligated to see and be and do things differently.

So, although we have been focusing on flexibility and workload for a while, we want to be more ambitious, with the introduction of a nine-day fortnight for our teachers - starting in the next academic year.

No impact on students’ contact time

For so many of us, the pandemic changed our relationship with work and with wellness. We know education is a hard landscape, and we work and live best when we are nourished and replenished. We need to give teachers time to build that in to their lives.

That is why we are working towards a nine-day fortnight for teachers - without impacting students’ contact time.

As far as possible, we want this to be a genuine reduction in working hours and not simply a move to compress 10 days of teaching into nine. The analysis we have been conducting shows this is possible in many of our schools. Our hard data is telling us that we can have softer lives.

We believe we can start to do this through creative and dynamic scheduling, and different approaches to student grouping, alongside increased planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time.

As a trust, we have always tried to skew our budget towards teaching staff by reducing other costs, which has allowed for more PPA in most of our schools.

PPA from home and term-time holidays

Where this model might not work, we are pushing forward with a plan that allows remote working during non-contact time. This will include giving more PPA and making it manageable from home or another remote location, and - where our teachers want to - compressing the free hours or non-contact hours so that they can be away from school for longer periods.

Aside from this core offering, another strand of our flexible working plan is to offer personal days during term time.

Although the holiday allowance afforded to teachers is generous, we know that it is also restrictive, and we believe that allowing some deviation is not just welcome but necessary.

Ultimately, our ambition is for teachers to be afforded the same flexibility that’s abundant in many other sectors and is even expected in the post-pandemic world.

Given the nature of their roles, we know that the scale of this flexibility may fall short of what’s on offer outside the sector, but making these changes will go a long way in supporting the bridging of that gap.

AI in education

Like other school trusts, we are also looking at how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to alleviate workload pressures, from automating the summarisation of meetings and distribution of actions to the generation of lesson resources and plans.

Our AI team, which has representation from each of our 17 academies, is leading our thinking on this.

But we want to be bolder: we believe AI could form a reimagining of the school timetable to reduce teachers’ contact time and provide greater flexibility.

We appreciate that this approach will need tailoring around specific subject needs - a one-size-fits-all model will not work in this context - but we are looking at how AI, and technology more widely, can support our staff by freeing up more time and also by allowing our best teachers to influence more students than just those physically present in their classrooms.

It’s important to clarify that harnessing the power of emerging technologies is not about reducing our current workforce. Rather, it’s a strategic response to the pressing recruitment challenges facing our schools.

What comes next

We will be working with Ambition Institute to make our flexible working plans a reality through piloting approaches that draw inspiration from Next Education Workforce (NEW). This is an initiative that focuses on workforce design by reimagining the typical classroom and supporting teachers to have greater influence without giving more time. We will be excited to share more on this in the future.

Flexibility in the workplace is vital to securing more teachers.

In line with our deep commitment to self-determination, supporting greater flexibility with these initiatives gives our teachers more agency over their roles, and greater satisfaction, by prioritising work-life harmony.

For all current vacancies at Dixons Academies Trust click here.