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How job-sharing can broaden and balance the primary curriculum

Written by: Sue Jackson
5 min read

In January 2019, Damian Hinds announced that the DfE would be supporting schools to implement flexible working practices such as job-sharing, whereby two teachers perform the role of one full-time staff member, as part of the ‘Teacher recruitment and retention strategy’ (DfE, 2019). Hinds notes that job-sharing is relatively uncommon in teaching compared to other lines of work. The strategy identifies ways in which job-sharing could be more easily implemented in schools, focusing on the benefits to the teacher.

January 2019 also saw the release of the draft Ofsted inspection framework for 2019 (Ofsted, 2019), in which there is a clear expectation that the curriculum be broad and balanced, with high and equal expectations across a wide range of subjects for all learners. Here, I consider the extent to which the practice of job-sharing can help a school to develop the breadth and balance of its curriculum, based on research findings and my own experience of job-sharing in a small, rural primary school.

How common is job-sharing?

Within education, around 22 per cent of the workforce work part-time hours (DfE, 2017a). The School Workforce Survey (DfE, 2017b) doesn’t differentiate between teachers who are contracted as part of a formal job share and those who are employed on a part-time contract, so it is unclear how many teacher posts are formally job-shared in the UK. It is, however, recognised that part-time teaching, in all its forms, is less common than in other areas of employment – 28 per cent of women in education compared with 40 per cent in other areas, and eight per cent of men compared to 12 per cent in non-education roles (DfE, 2017a). In their guidance issued in 2017(DfE, 2017a), the DfE identifies that job-sharing can work extremely well in leadership group roles, but note that its use is still unusual.

How can job-sharing enhance school-wide curriculum design?

Both the draft Ofsted framework and the recruitment and retention strategy make it clear that ensuring high-quality curriculum-planning is the responsibility of the school leadership team. In most primary schools, a staff of eight to 15 teachers would not be unusual and, within that staff, one would generally find a spread of teaching experience with varying subject strengths and specialisms. Schools may aim to recruit staff to ensure a balance, but with 12 National Curriculum subjects – plus PHSE and RE – to be covered, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient expertise in the average staff team for each subject to be led by one specialist. Increasing the availability of job-sharing will, by its very nature, increase the staff head count within a school and could help to broaden the range of subject expertise available for school-wide curriculum development. In their analysis of research into collaborative curriculum-planning, Voogt et al. (2016) found that collaborative curriculum design developed teachers’ knowledge of both pedagogy and skills related to the subject.

How can job-sharing enhance classroom curriculum delivery?

Job-sharing doesn’t only provide benefits in terms of subject leadership. Wiliamson et al. (2015) identify that careful recruitment and matching of job-sharers can bring breadth and balance to teaching. Khatib (2017) identifies that the use of specialist teachers produces excellent results. The teacher will be able to plan for and deliver a greater depth of knowledge, and workload will be reduced, as the teacher has a deeper subject understanding on which to base planning. In my school, all classes are staffed by job shares, and this has allowed teachers to teach to their curriculum strengths in terms of non-core subjects, including swapping staff across classes and key stages where appropriate.

What are the possible limitations of job-sharing in education?

One of the greatest concerns regarding job-sharing is that of continuity among staff and the possible negative impact that differing approaches may have on attainment. McGovern (2017) suggests that the student–teacher relationship could be harmed by a lack of familiarity and routine. His concerns are validated by Wiliamson et al. (2015), who note that when job-sharers do not share the same ethos, the partnership may not be successful. It is important to develop routines and consistent expectations between staff which allow students to feel secure in the classroom. McGovern’s concern that subject teaching may be harmed by a two-teacher approach ignores evidence which suggests that interleaving adds a desirable difficulty to learning. Soderstrom and Bjork (2015) describe how interleaving may initially cause slower and more error-prone performance, but may improve learning over longer intervals. Job-share teachers who plan and teach alternate lessons could find that, with careful planning around topics or themes, this interleaved approach brings a depth of understanding, as opposed to superficial learning,. This is at the heart of a curriculum that challenges students and develops their cognitive skills to allow them to adapt their knowledge and think critically about what is presented to them.

There has been limited research into the impact of job-sharing on pupils to date. What has been noted in some research is the detrimental effect of inefficient pedagogy due to limited interaction with pupils. For example, a small American project researched the impact of using a more secondary-style approach of subject teachers in classes (Fryer, 2018, p. 655). Fryer noted that the use of multiple specialised teachers for primary-aged pupils ‘decreases student achievement, decreases student attendance, and increases student behavioural problems’.

Conclusion

While there are concerns about the impact of job-sharing in education, there is much merit to the practice in all areas of the education sector. With suitable recruitment procedures and careful planning and implementation, it could see not only benefits for staffing numbers at a time when recruitment and retention is a national concern, but also wider benefits in terms of the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum that meets the needs of students.

References

DfE (2017a) Flexible working in schools. London. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flexible-working-in-schools (accessed 28 March 2019).

DfE (2017b) School workforce in England: November 2017. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017 (accessed 23 March 2019).

DfE (2019) Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. London. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-recruitment-and-retention-strategy (accessed 28 March 2019).

Fryer RG Jr (2018) The ‘pupil’ factory: Specialization and the production of human capital in schools. American Economic Review 108(3): 616–56.

Khatib M (2017) The question of knowledge. Available at: http://www.parentsandteachers.org.uk/resources/question-knowledge (accessed 24 February 2018).

McGovern C (2017) Admit it, sharing teachers is bad for the child. The Conservative Woman, 14 December, 17. Available at: https://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/chris-mcgovern-admit-sharing-teachers-bad-child/ (accessed 12 February 2019).

Ofsted (2019) Education inspection framework: Draft for consultation. London. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework-draft-for-consultation (accessed 28 March 2019).

Soderstrom N and Bjork R (2015) Learning versus performance: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science 10(2): 176–199.

Voogt JM, Pieters JM and Handelzalts A (2016) Teacher collaboration in curriculum design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions. Educational Research and Evaluation 22: 3-4, 121-140

Wiliamson S, Cooper R and Baird M (2015) Job-sharing among teachers: Positive, negative (and unintended) consequences. The Economic and Labour Relations Review 26(3): 448–464.

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