A college group in London will trial a four-day working week for English and STEM teachers in a move to tackle staff shortages.
London South East Colleges (LSEC) is believed to be the first college group to pilot the shortened working week, which is gaining popularity around the world.
It aims to make the prospect of working at the college more attractive by offering a better work-life balance with no loss of pay.
Further education is in the midst a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. An Association of Colleges report published in March found there were around 6,000 job vacancies in the sector – estimated to be the highest number of vacancies seen in two decades.
High levels of persistent vacancies were found in government priority areas such as construction, engineering, health and social care and science and maths.
LSEC is one of the many colleges struggling to recruit enough English and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers to meet high student demand.
College principal Asfa Sohail said that by introducing the option of a compressed four-day week, the college is “hoping to increase the number of potential candidates and secure the talent we need to continue delivering high-quality maths, English and STEM teaching”.
She added: “As an organisation, we are committed to the mental health and wellbeing of all staff. Work-life balance and managing workload are a huge part of this – so we hope that offering a four-day working week will be an attractive option for many people.”
LSEC has 14 posts they’re looking to fill for the pilot, which will also be opened up to existing English and STEM staff.
Those involved will continue to work a full-time teaching post of 37 hours a week but spread across four days instead of five.
The pilot, which will start in September, comes after the Covid-19 pandemic led many businesses and people to rethink working patters in favour of hybrid and more flexible practices.
But the University and College Union is not yet sold on a four-day week in colleges. A UCU spokesperson told FE Week: “We have concerns about proposals to encourage staff to teach the same hours but in fewer days. To attract staff the college should cut contact hours and seriously address heavy workloads.
“Despite shortening the week, the working hours will still be the same, which may not help when workload is already sky high in the sector.
The UCU said workload, along with pay, is one of the major contributing factors to staff leaving the sector. Colleges should “look to pay staff properly and reduce workload, rather than simply tinkering with timetables,” the spokesperson added.
Sohail said LSEC is keen to explore further options for more flexible working across its whole workforce going forward – including home-based and hybrid support roles.
“We must support people’s changing lifestyle needs while meeting the needs of our business and, ultimately, our students and communities,” she added.