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.