Flexible working and the new Ofsted Framework

Teachers on either end of the spectrum

As an education-based physiotherapist, I welcome the positive discussions around the “most evidenced based research inspection in our 26 year history” (Ofsted 2019).

It’s encouraging to see “leadership and management judgement” will remain and will “now include looking at how leaders develop teachers and staff while taking their workload and wellbeing into account”.

This is great news. We’re proud to support leading schools globally with their commitment to employee health, safety and wellbeing. However, as an education sector, I think we still have a long way to go until the benefits are fully embraced as fundamental to every school’s successful operation.

It’s long been recognised that teacher retention and recruitment have proved difficult in recent times as workload, pressure of parents, physical demands of the job and “less holistic leadership styles” take effect.

Early findings from the Positive Workplace Surveys via the Education Support Partnership show the following ae consistently causes of work-related stress: leadership and line management, relationships with colleagues, control over workloads, student behaviour and respect.

The HSE have moved teaching to No.4 in the list of most stressful jobs and you only need to read teaching forums on social media to hear directly from so many about their personal challenges and experiences.

We know that wellbeing is influenced by personal and environmental circumstances and not a switch which is turned on/off at home/school.

In order to recruit and retain the best teachers, who are all, first and foremost, “people”, staff wellbeing must be seen as a priority (as in many other successful sectors); school culture acknowledged as a HUGE influencing factor and leaders be proud to share their holistic approaches to looking after, giving and getting the very best from “the team”.

We must also recognise in recent studies that today’s graduates place a higher priority on flexibility and workplace “feel good factors” than actual pay. I imagine many talented teaching graduates will feel the same?

This is the first generation of workers entering the profession who have been brought up in the “digital age”, a generation who have been less exposed to “safe dangers”, risk taking and physical adventures to build up strength and fitness – not all of course but this can perhaps be highlighted by several groups of 18-22 year old undergraduates I met at a recent education exhibition. Even though they were studying childhood studies and related teaching degrees, they openly admitted they did not know for how long they were would work in the profession as they found it difficult getting up from the floor and physically demanding working with young children on placement.

On the other end of the age spectrum, I have spoken with several older workers (classified as over 50 years), who haven taken early retirement due to musculoskeletal ill health (primarily back pain) or who are seriously considering it and others who have had personal activities and holidays curtailed in retirement due to back, hip and knee problems which they feel are work-related.

One former retired KS1 teacher in her 60s (with recurrent back problems) was forced to cancel a once in a lifetime trekking holiday. She felt 30+ years bending over low tables was catching up with her long after she had left, and wished she’d taken preventative action when she was younger.

Sadly, I hear these stories far too often, especially as the highest risk factor for back pain is already having had it and preventative inventions are simply and cost effective.

Another story to share, which I think you may have an opinion on too? is of a 54-year-old lady working mornings in a preschool and 3 afternoons a week, office based for a charity. She had been struggling with sitting on the tiny kids chairs for months and was “in agony at preschool” whilst she coped well at her ergonomically assessed office workstation.

Her pre-school employer, rather than looking at reasonable adjustments and flexible working, insisted any time taken off would be unpaid leave as she was still able to work for her afternoon employer. I’m not sure how these practices can continue, but upsettingly and frustratingly the do for several reasons.

It’s important we consider the needs of all staff and offer flexible approaches before musculoskeletal injuries occur.

The new Ofsted Framework will hopefully provide organisations and leaders the opportunities to embrace employee health and wellbeing and give those who already do, the chance to shine and be proud.

If you’re responsible for employee health, safety and wellbeing and wish to discuss how to create healthier workplaces to benefit employees and ultimately the children, it would be brilliant to hear from you.

Equally if you are a teacher, business manager, head or governor and wish to share your employee health and wellbeing interventions, we always love to share good practice with others, so please do get in touch!

Our most recent Jolly Back First Class Partner is Fleming Fulton School with their very own wellbeing committee and Governing Board who agreed funding for 26 Jolly Back chairs and floor cushions for support across the school – how fantastic and visionary is that!! I bet it’s a wonderful place to work and learn with such belief and leadership.

At Jolly Back we genuinely care about creating healthier workplaces (including working at home). We pride ourselves on offering proven benefits to people, organisations and ultimately children. We’re understanding and flexible to your organisation’s needs and sincerely look forward to supporting you.