From Flexi Working To Flexi Learning
Thanks to the likes of wonder woman, Anna Whitehouse a.k.a. Mother Pukka'flexible working' more and more. Almost single-handedly responsible for shoving this important issue under the previously uninterested noses of governments within the UK, Anna has thrown 'flexible working' into the zeitgeist and watched it flourish.
Of course, behind my somewhat poetic description stands a great deal of blood, sweat and tears on her part and that of her husband, Matt Farquharson (a.k.a. Papa Pukka). In their joint TED talk 'How To Be A Happy Chicken', Matt and Anna discuss the benefits of flexible working and reduced hours likening it to that of a battery hen farm. Stressed hens don't lay that many eggs and you don't create many golden geese from over-worked employees. To extend that metaphor (perhaps a little too far), the old adage of 'you have break a few eggs to make an omelette' has never been less true when it comes to curating a workforce with high productivity levels. Breaking your employees, is never a good thing.
The Pukka pair are fighting the hardest battle. This is unchartered waters as far as the UK is concerned. Sure there are a few forward thinking, techy, creative companies that have probably been doing it for years, but essentially the UK is stuck in a very imperial mindset that promotes a traditional Monday to Friday 9-5. This has, undoubtedly, made their battle harder but someone had to start somewhere and to see them chipping away at the granite face of old-school corporate thinking has inspired everyone from parents, to companies, to bosses, to employees and beyond. Now though, it looks like schools are sitting up and taking notice.
Forest Gate Community School, rated Outstanding by Ofsted, has recently announced that students will leave just after midday every Friday. Sidestepping, for a moment, the fact that accompanying every student's whoop of joy is a working parent tearing their hair out at the thought of covering the logistics, this could actually be an inspired move. Numerous studies have shown that productivity and happiness are increased with a shorter working week, and it'll be interesting to see whether this applies to schools as well as to businesses. But the real genius in this move is more about the seeds they are sowing within the future CEOs.
We don't know whether this will work in schools. The students at Forest Gate will have opportunities to stay on Friday's and listen to guest speakers or participate in enrichment programmes and these will be entirely optional. It'll need time to bed in and, as an ex teacher myself, I suspect that once the novelty of being free three hours early at the end of each week wears off, many students will remain at school, do work or participate in whatever's going on.
We do know two things though. These students will recognise a trail-blazing move when they see it. They'll understand the groundbreaking nature of what's happening and seeing those in authority take that leap, put that faith in them and believe in the power of change will be an inspiration that they'll hopefully take with them into their adult lives. The second thing we know is that giving students the chance to take some independent responsibility for their learning and development, even if it's just for one afternoon a week, will embed in them skills far beyond their ability to interpret Shakespeare's sonnets or do trigonometry. I wish every school offered students a chance to take personal responsibility for their learning.
If I was playing devil's advocate (surely not, me?) I would suggest one note of caution. All tests done regarding the increased productivity of employees with regards to flexible working or reduced hours must be in their infancy. Is there a chance that productivity increases in these situations because, compared to the majority of the working world, these employees are getting what looks like a great deal? That they're 'better off', that morale is increased due to their employers recognition of their value? Would these productivity levels remain when everyone is only working a 4.5 day week, or a 4 day week? When everyone is on the same deal and the same hours, will it feel like a nod of recognition in the same way, or will it just be the way it is?
I don't know the answer - I do know that I hope that's not the case. I believe in the power of flexible working and reduced hours and I believe what Matt and Anna of Brand Pukka have been fighting for. I'm delighted to see this happen at Forest Gate Community School and if it makes for a generation of humans who recognise the importance of the individual and their individual needs and abilities within a collective then I'm all for it.
Image: Charlotte Gray @emilygrayphotography