Regulate teacher recruitment agencies, ASCL urges government

Geoff Barton.

The school leaders’ union ASCL is calling for government regulation of teacher recruitment agencies after nearly three quarters of secondary school heads said they increased spending on supply teachers in the past three years.

The union surveyed 322 headteachers and found 97 per cent had used agency supply teachers in the past 12 months, with two thirds doing so to cover vacancies caused by issues in recruiting staff.

ASCL is also concerned that recruitment agencies are offering incentives to trainees on initial teacher training (ITT) programmes to sign up with them rather than applying directly to schools, with one third of headteachers saying they were aware of agencies offering cash, laptops and tablets to trainees if they signed up.

Schools must pay a “finders fee” if they want to take on an agency supply teacher as a full-time member of staff. Seventy-three per cent of respondents said they had paid this fee over the past 12 months, with nearly half (58 per cent) saying the fee had been £5,000 or more.

ASCL is demanding government action on the issue by considering reuglation and asking ITT providers to advise trainees they should not sign up with recruitment agencies.

The government is already planning to set up a pool of supply teacher agencies which follow standard levels of practice, include the use of finder’s fees, which will be available from September.

However, ASCL has warned that “many more teachers” will be needed in the next five years as the number of pupils in England’s secondary schools is expected to increase by 391,000. The government has missed its target for recruitment to ITT programmes in secondary schools for the past five years in a row.

The union’s general secretary Geoff Barton said the government had “recognised” the issues behind teacher recruitment, but warned there was “still a long way to go” to make teaching a “more attractive career”.

“We also desperately need a solution to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is driving up the use of supply teachers. Children must have permanent teachers who know them and understand their needs.

“It is also an exorbitant cost on schools, and the taxpayer, to have to fill vacancies in this way.”

Seventy-one per cent of headteachers said they had increased the amount spent on agency supply teachers in the past three years, with 53 per cent citing difficulties recruiting permanent teachers as a factor and 54 per cent blaming increased agency fees.

In fact, 82 per cent of respondents said the daily rate for hiring an agency supply teacher was more expensive that it would cost for an equivalent permanent teacher, and 42 per cent said it was over 10 per cent more expensive.

The costs are eating into school budgets, with 74 per cent saying they had spent between one and five per cent of their budget on agency supply teachers over the past year. Seventeen per cent spent between six and 10 per cent, and 19 respondents spent more than 10 per cent.

According to ASCL, six to 10 per cent of the budget of an average-size secondary on minimum funding in 2018/19 equates to between £261,000 and £435,000.

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