Opinion

Government must act to support and protect supply teachers

11 Sep 2020, 15:25



Supply teaching is precarious – and costly – at the best of times. These teachers need solutions to see them through Covid and beyond, writes Patrick Roach

The NASUWT recognises the vital work carried out by our committed and dedicated supply teachers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Supply teachers make a really valuable contribution to pupils’ education and schools need to be confident they can call upon an available pool of supply teachers as they seek to maintain provision throughout the crisis and beyond.

But the NASUWT is deeply concerned that the current system is failing to support teachers or to benefit children, young people and schools.

We know that supply teachers often have no choice but to obtain work via different supply agencies, leaving them vulnerable to the vagaries of precarious, intermittent and insecure employment.

In the past, schools engaged supply teachers directly or accessed them from local-authority supply pools. Private supply agencies existed at the margins, but not to the extent they do now.

We have evidence of fees to the value of £10,000 to release a teacher

The NASUWT’s annual survey of supply teachers has found that the overwhelming majority reported that private supply agencies were the only way they could obtain work. The amount spent by maintained schools on supply teachers for 2018/19 was in excess of £550 million.

Of this, in excess of three-quarters (77 per cent, or £425 million) was spent sourcing supply teachers from employment agencies. The figure for academy schools for the period 2018-19 was in excess of £199 million.

Schools are charged up to a 40 per cent commission fee which goes direct to the agency. This equates to a spend of over £170 million for local authority maintained schools and over £34.5 million for academies.

Many agencies also charge finder’s fees to schools, which restrict access to employment for teachers who may be able to take up permanent or temporary job opportunities in schools. We have evidence of fees to the value of £10,000 being charged to release a teacher.

On top of this, supply teachers employed through agencies are also currently unable to be active members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS). There is a strong argument that supply teachers, working alongside other employed teachers, should be afforded the right to access the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

Supply teachers are also facing added financial uncertainty as a result of the implementation of Government guidance to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

We have spoken to many teachers who tell us that because of the Government’s guidance, they can’t get opportunities to work as schools are expected to minimise social contacts through the use of bubbles.

Many supply teachers were denied access to the Government’s furlough scheme and in some cases, teachers working through umbrella companies were furloughed at 80 per cent of the National Minimum Wage.

Coupled with the decision to end the Coronavirus Job Retention Fund in October, this is set to leave many more supply teachers facing financial misery this term, and this may well force many teachers to seek work outside of teaching and education.

The Government needs to intervene to extend the provision of financial support for supply teachers at this time.

The NASUWT has called on the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson to prioritise additional job protection funding for supply teachers who can’t get work as a result of government guidance on Covid-19.

For the longer term, it’s also important that the government delivers fairness for supply teachers, with professional pay levels for a start, and incentivising schools and academies to move towards their own directly employed or pooled arrangements for sourcing supply teachers.



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6 Comments

  1. Anne Ruth Turner

    Almost all Supply Teachers have been taken off furlough already. They were lucky if furlough lasted beyond the end of July!!! So most STs have had no income for getting on 8-9 weeks already…and that is if they were lucky to get furloughed in the first place.

  2. I was blind booked for a term by my agency and the school in question have been using internal cover instead. As a result, no work, no pay, no option of furlough. Currently claiming universal credit to support my family.

  3. Sally Harper

    Thank you for covering this for us. Supply teachers know that September is notoriously quiet but what is concerning this year is that any extra funding for catch up work looks to be going to TAs, Cover Supervisors and Learning Mentors as there’s alot of recruitment in this area. I have a weekly Covid test as I work for a care home two days a month, but this doesn’t seem to have made me any more attractive!

  4. Bridget Maclean

    I was lucky in that my agency furloughed me from March 23 to which that was also the last time I was in a classroom in a primary school. Me the cleaner and the head teacher we’re constantly wiping down tables. I was told the amount of income you received on furlough was based on 80% of what you earnt month by month the previous year. Now the schools are back I had no call or email from the agency letting me know the furlough has ended. I’ve been without income now for 3 three weeks and I know it’s been much longer for others ! The agency has now informed me that work is just like normal in for this time of year but it’s not! The dynamic of how we manage a classroom now is leaving supply workers redundant .

  5. This year I became a supply teacher and was furloughed luckily in March. This september I have understandably had no work this September. 1. Because September has always been notoriously quiet for cover support in schools, 2. The agencies all three that I’m registered with; have said over phone and email, that there’s no work in September, especially with Covid luming. 3. Schools are worried about covid, and bringing it in to the schools. For example. In the week leading up to Lockdown in March I worked across three schools; doing supply teaching, so you can understand why that isn’t feasible now, in this current climate; because I could potentially be spreading the virus from school to school and schools do not want to take that risk.
    Supply Agencies stopped paying Us Furlough in July some in August and others didn’t pay supply teachers at all. Even though the Government Furlough scheme is ending October 31st. Which would take teachers to the half term.

    One of my agencies have withheld the last August payment; and has blamed HMRC for the hold up. They have sent a load of weekly emails to cover their tracks stating that HMRC are holding up our payments. This is surely can’t be true. HMRC won’t gain from it.

    We have also not been paid accurately, when we were being furloughed. We have been left completely financially disturbed with uncertainty. At a time when the Government actually made allowances for us to be supported till October. There is no justification for the agencies to behave in this way. Especially knowing that September has always been notoriously a quiet month for work and even more so now with the pandemic on a second wave.

  6. It is obvious that schools won’t want supply teachers coming into their bubbles, or else what would be the point of a bubble? So, no income for us!
    There was some light when the government announced the small group catch up scheme. Ah! Work (and income) methought. But, where are those groups and why don’t my agencies (I am registered with 4) have an inkling either?
    So, after getting furlough at £200 per MONTH (better than nothing ) I am now working two jobs – as a cleaner in a -yes, you’ve got it – school! – and a warehouse operative. We need to get back to earning, even if in a job way out of our usual pay scale. Otherwise, where is the tax going to come from to cover the handouts – our children’s children will still be paying for all of this.