About the University

Progress update

Parenting and Childcare Working Group update July 2017

Our aim is to better understand the needs of staff and student parents, and produce a set of recommendations to change policies, practices and cultures to University Executive Board (UEB) to support working parents.

What we have achieved so far:


The staff and student survey data have been collected, yielding detailed responses from 91 students (56 male, 55 female), and 541 staff (157 male, 383 female and one person who preferred not to say).  Three focus groups have also been held for students (2 male, 10 female), academic staff (1 male, 4 female), and professional service staff (3 male, 9 female).  

Survey questions

The survey questions explored the different types of parenting leave taken, and how staff and students experienced planning, taking and returning from their parenting leave.  Questions also explored perceptions of the ongoing support that the University provides for working and studying parents taking care of young and older children. 

Data analysis

The staff and student data has been analysed separately due to the slightly different questions which were asked.  In order to have a detailed understanding of our data, we also split our staff data to look at differences in responses across Faculties, between males and females, and across different staff categories; and also our student data by degree types and, where possible, student domicile.  More detailed analyses have revealed important differences, which will result in more targeted actions.  The qualitative data from the free-response questions in the surveys and focus group transcripts have been analysed using a ‘thematic analysis’ approach, and we have identified 8 key themes where improvements in support can be made. 

Key themes

  1. Policy Issues Issues included flexibility and consistency of policies across contract types, roles, job grades, faculties, staff and students.  Policies were thought to be lacking clarity in some areas, and that the tone of our policy statements could be improved.  Although it is important to note that the language of the University’s “family friendly policies” (including maternity and parental leave) have recently been updated.          
  2. Application of Policy The main area highlighted was perceived inaccessibility and inconsistency in how flexible working is delivered in practice across the University.                             
  3. Leave, Cover and Returning to Work  Parents wished for more organised planning of their leave and for cover to be arranged in advance and provided more often for teaching staff.  They also raised the need for more induction by managers and colleagues upon return.
  4. Information Sources  Parents reported that they found it difficult to find information on the University website in relation to policies, support services and childcare.  They also requested that information for parents was available in one place.   
  5. Help and Advice  Staff and students stated they would benefit from local advisors able to provide help and advice, and highlighted the importance of informal networking as a source of support.
  6. Facilities  The responses highlighted a clear need for onsite childcare facilities, with support for play schemes, baby changing and feeding facilities, and car parking.
  7. Timetabling and Scheduling  The scheduling of lectures, seminars, meetings and training was an important issue for parents. 
  8. Working Culture  Parents highlighted ways in which attitudes toward flexible working could be improved, how the university could become more family-friendly, and changes to other aspects of local and institutional culture.

Current activities

The Parenting and Childcare Working Group held its third meeting in July to discuss the issues raised by parents, as well as the potential solutions to the identified challenges.  We are now developing an action plan that addresses each issue within the 8 key themes that will be presented to UEB in the autumn.   As part of our action planning, we have drawn on suggestions for improvement made by survey respondents and focus group attendees.  In addition, we have been actively researching how other organisations and Higher Education Institutions have successfully tackled these issues.  We have also investigated the childcare provision at other Russell Group Universities, as well as those in the North East.  We have also actively engaged in the exchange of information to help identify best practice.  
We have also carried out research to highlight the benefits to both individuals and the organisations they work for in terms of improving family friendly policies and practices in the workplace.  For example, we have found compelling evidence in support of flexible working, which demonstrates the positive effects on work outputs, job satisfaction and organisational commitment.  Understanding how creating a family friendly environment benefits the University, its staff and its students, will help us to bring about change and measure our future success.

Next steps 

The Working Group will develop a report and an Action Plan by the end of the summer.  The final meeting in October will focus on finalising these documents and a set of recommendations for UEB to consider.  Although some of the actions require long term commitment from the University, the Working Group has also identified a number of quick wins.  For example, we will work with NUSU to support parent students arriving in Newcastle, and re-establish a Parent’s Network for staff with children of all ages.  A further update will be available during Autumn Term.  But in the meantime, please do look out for some new initiatives over the next few months.