Could A 9 Day Fortnight Help Fix The Crisis In Education?

By Joel Kenyon

 

With the recruitment and retention of teachers featuring heavily in the education sector’s ever-worsening state of affairs, could a 9 day working fortnight be the answer?

 

When I chose to become a teacher, I envisioned using my life experiences and educational knowledge to inspire and shape the next generation. Like many, I was driven by a passion for making a difference. However, the teaching profession has faced increasing challenges in recent years, struggling to retain dedicated educators. To address this, we must think creatively. My academy trust, Dixons Academies Trust, is launching an innovative solution: offering teachers one day off every fortnight. This bold move aims to revitalise the teaching experience and hopefully make long-lasting changes across the whole profession.

In 2021, the Department for Education launched the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter (UK Department for Education 2021), a toolkit highlighting staff wellbeing in the sector and ensuring that both the DfE and schools focus on ensuring teachers achieve a good state of physical and mental health.

The report was well-received, reflecting a collaborative effort among mental health charities, teaching unions, and individual schools and trusts. Yet only 3,000 schools have signed up to the Wellbeing Charter, representing around 10% of schools nationwide, highlighting the necessity for continued efforts in this area.

The Government’s Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders survey (UK Government 2024) showed that, despite the effort from the DfE to reduce workload, the average number of hours teachers are working has increased since 2022 with the average full-time teacher working 52.4 hours a week. In the same survey, 79% of teachers enjoyed most of their time in the classroom but less than half were satisfied all of the time.

In 2023, Education Support, a charity which focuses on the mental health and well-being of teachers in UK schools, released a report looking into the levels of stress and well-being, and revealed 78% of teachers in the UK experience stress, and 36% suffer from burnout, both representing increases from the previous year (Education Support 2023).

All of this is having an impact on teacher retention. 1 in 10 teachers leave the profession within one year of qualifying and 4 in 10 teachers decide to leave after a decade in the classroom. In 2023, the number of full-time teachers leaving the profession was 43,522 and has remained high for several years (Department for Education 2024).

Whilst the number of those who enter the profession is higher than those who are leaving, when coupled with rising pupil numbers over the last few years, the pupil-teacher ratio is swelling to some of the highest in the OECD (OECD 2023). For years, many subjects have missed their targets for recruitment with just 59% of the overall secondary target being met. This is despite a 6.5% pay rise offered to teachers and a starting wage of £30,000 beginning last year.

The situation depicted is stark. There is a pressing need for innovative approaches which entice graduates into the profession and ensuring they value it enough to continue it for years to come. Government initiatives and increases in wages are not having their expected impact therefore more creative solutions need to be explored.

Dixons Academies Trust positions itself as a disruptive force in the field of education and are taking a bold approach to attracting teachers into the profession, with the aim of increasing retention and improving work-life balance. One day off a fortnight.

Over two weeks, teachers will truly have one day off. Their remaining scheduled working hours, duties, PPA and contact time with pupils will remain unchanged. This offering will be open to all teachers including Middle Leaders, Senior Leaders and even Principals.

This strategy is not about compressing ten days worth of work into nine, nor is it allowing one day of working from home. Rather, by cleverly restructuring the timetable to reduce the number of hours teachers spend in the classroom, allowing them the autonomy to use this time to focus on improving their work-life balance.

Dixons operate a model of Aligned Autonomy, which means that our academies have all defined for themselves how they can best achieve 9 days in 10 whilst sharing ideas across the trust about how best we can achieve it. Across our trust we therefore have a few different models which will run next year: we’re currently explaining the options, in detail, through a miniseries on our OpenSource platform. Dixons OpenSource is our contribution to the sector—an array of free resources outlining everything we do at Dixons.

Dixons has focused on improving wellbeing and retention by reducing workload and promoting flexibility to our profession.

There is a familiar trope that teachers often hear when it comes to their wellbeing. “You get 13 weeks of holiday a year”. To all those who make this point, I invite them to begin a PGCE source and become a classroom teacher. Over the last 7 years I have yet to have anyone take my advice, but for me, teaching is a wonderful profession. We make a significant impact every day, and although our work is challenging we work incredibly hard in our 39 weeks in school. I am confident that transitioning to a nine-day fortnight will help retain hardworking, passionate teachers while also attracting the next generation into the profession.

We make such an impact every day and whilst it is not plain sailing, we work incredibly hard in out 39 weeks in school, I cant resent that, but I am confident that a move toward a nine day fortnight will help retain hardworking passionate teacher whilst attracting the next generation of talented and dedicated educators.

If we look beyond the education sector, there has been a noticeable shift towards employers adopting a more flexible approach to work since the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 10 worked remotely one day a week; this has since doubled to 1 in 5. (UK Parliament 2022) Due to the often unique demands of our profession, this has often rendered this option unattainable to us teachers. The NFER, in its teacher Labour Market Report 2024 (NFER 2024), even advocated for a 1.8% pay increase to offset this inherent inflexibility. If we wish to attract more graduates into teaching, it is clear that we must offer similar incentives to those found in other graduate professions.

This initiative from Dixons gives us teachers some of that flexibility. The flexibility to have a day away somewhere in the countryside, to book that doctor appointment you find difficult to get when students are off, and the time to spend with family and friends to improve those relationships that teachers wish away until their coveted time off.

I posted these potential benefits in a thread on Twitter/X a few weeks ago and the response was massive. Almost 275,000 people have viewed the post and hundreds of people commented with questions, curiosity and excitement for the impact it would have on the teaching profession as a whole with many asking if their school may offer something similar in the future.

The overwhelming response on Twitter/X highlights the urgent need for change in education. It’s evident that only through innovative thinking can we enhance the life of teachers across the country. Dixons is not alone in adopting this approach, but many are glad that a large trust like ours is leading the way. As more schools implement similar initiatives, we can look forward to a happier, more sustainable workforce.

While this solution may not address every issue in teaching, it is a significant and much-needed step in the right direction, not just at Dixons, but across the entire profession.

 

References

Department for Education. 2024. “School workforce in England, Reporting year 2023 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK.” School workforce in England. https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england.

Education Support. 2023. “Teacher Wellbeing Index 2023.” Education Support. https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/media/0h4jd5pt/twix_2023.pdf.

NFER. 2024. “Teacher Labour Market in England Annual Report 2024.” https://www.nfer.ac.uk/media/hqdglvra/teacher_labour_market_in_england_annual_report_2024.pdf.

OECD. 2023. “Teachers – Students per teaching staff.” OECD Data. https://data.oecd.org/teachers/students-per-teaching-staff.htm.

UK Department for Education. n.d. “Education staff wellbeing charter.” Gov.uk. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/education-staff-wellbeing-charter.

UK Government. 2024. “Working lives of teachers and leaders: wave 2 summary report.” GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-lives-of-teachers-and-leaders-wave-2/working-lives-of-teachers-and-leaders-wave-2-summary-report#contents.

UK Parliament. 2022. “The impact of remote and hybrid working on workers and organisations.” Uk Parliament. https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pb-0049/

 

 

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