The government has said at least 585 former teachers have answered its call to arms to return to the classroom and cover Covid staffing issues, but there are questions over the figures.
According to the Department for Education, 485 teachers have signed up with supply agencies following the drive. A further 100 Teach First alumni have also “expressed an interest in supporting the workforce”.
The department said the data was from just 10 per cent of agencies, and that the total number signed up was “likely to be much larger”. However, it would not say why the sample size was so small, or which agencies had provided figures.
According to government data, there are 93 supply agencies that are part of the Crown Commercial Service’s framework used by the DfE for its call to arms, meaning the government’s figures for the scheme is based on data provided by around nine organisations.
The DfE has also not said how many of the teachers who had signed up had started work in English schools, nor when the remainder would make it into the classroom.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he wanted to “thank all former teachers who have come forward to support the national effort and help keep our children in face-to-face education”.
“I call on all other former teachers who are able to do the same to come forward now.”
Figures questioned after few agencies provide data
But some have questioned the figures provided by the DfE, while others have warned the number coming forward is a “drop in the ocean” compared to what is needed.
The DfE reported earlier today that an estimated 4 per cent of teachers and school leaders – over 20,000 people nationally – were off with a confirmed case of Covid nationally. Overall workforce absence stands at around 9 per cent.
It also comes after Schools Week revealed last week how some supply agencies had seen limited impact from the call to arms, with delays to DBS checks and other hurdles in the way for those who do come forward.
Adam Sugarman, director of TLTP Education, revealed last week that of 76 ex-teachers who approached his agency, only four were compliant.
He questioned the latest figures from the DfE, and said his agency had not been asked to provide take-up numbers.
“The sample data suggests if 10 per cent of agencies are saying they’ve registered 485 ex-teachers, then 100 per cent would equate to nearly 5,000 ex-teachers registered, which is not realistic.”
He also said that if the 10 per cent of agencies that did give a response were larger market leaders, then that might skew the picture.
“If all the biggest, long-lasting agencies make up that 10 per cent then newer agencies with less manpower and smaller databases will not be able to register anywhere near as many ex-teachers.
“If you took the small agencies that make up the 90 per cent I think you would struggle to get anywhere close to 485 ex-teachers registered. I personally do not believe there are more than 1,000 ex-teachers currently registered under this new initiative across the whole of England”
Mike Donnelly, from Premier Teachers, said his firm was also not asked for data by the DfE.
However, he said the figure of 485 teachers nationally sounded “about right”.
‘Not many’ teachers will be ready for work
Simone Payne, chief executive of 4myschools, which has now had 20 ex-teachers come forward, said her agency had been asked to supply data.
However, she warned there would “not be may teachers ready for work yet due to vetting and most do not want to work full time, rather just one to two days a week from our experience”.
All applicants needed new DBS checks, she said, and referencing was “an issue particularly if they have not been working in schools in the last five years”.
“Schools are being very accommodating however this is just more admin for them.”
Reed, a large recruitment agency, is one of the supply firms which reported data back to the DfE.
Divisional managing director for education Gavin Beart told Schools Week the firm was “close to 100 overall now in terms of enquiries/registrations”, though these had “slowed a little bit” in recent days.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said it was “great” to see former teachers coming forward, and said they it would be “helpful to have people with the right qualifications and recent, relevant experience to boost the number of supply teachers currently available to schools”.
But he said the number coming forward was a “drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the challenge faced”.
“Realistically, schools are still facing an exceptionally challenging time.”
And James Zuccollo, director of school workforce at the Education Policy Institute, said the DfE’s figures showed a “relatively low number of sign-ups to this scheme and it is unclear whether this intervention is enough to make a significant impact”.
“While schools will welcome any additional staffing support, this intervention is unlikely to reverse the recent increases in absences and prevent some schools from having to close.”