The government is planning to step in and establish a national pool of ‘trusted’ supply teacher agencies in a bid to help schools cut down on spiralling agency bills.
The government’s buying arm, the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), is developing the pool alongside the Department for Education (DfE) to get a better deal for schools that have to recruit temporary staff.
While the plans are currently out for consultation, it is believed the companies would offer supply staff at a set rate and would have to sign up to a code of conduct.
In a presentation seen by Schools Week, the CCS highlighted government figures that show spending on supply staff rose from £918 million in 2011-12 to £1.2 billion in 2014-15.
Amanda Brown, assistant general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said schools needed a system to source supply teachers at “reasonable cost and which allows supply teachers to be properly paid for their work”. Money should go into education “not shareholders’ profits”, she said.
Highlighting wide variations in agency fees and dwindling support from local authority supply pools, the CCS suggested schools were not getting good value for money.
A new framework will not solve this fundamental problem of low supply and high demand
Unions have previously said that agencies are “exploiting” supply teachers. NASUWT annual conference delegates were told last month that some charged up to £10,000 in finders’ fees if a school wanted to recruit staff permanently.
CCS officials presented their proposals in March to education recruitment firms that belong to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
They told the confederation that schools wanted clear advice on how to engage temporary staff, a mandatory code of conduct for agencies, and “realistic and consistent” fees.
The plans cover all school types and all roles from teaching assistants up to headteacher and executive leader roles, according to documents seen by
Schools Week. Uber-style teacher supply apps are also being considered.
Frameworks of approved suppliers, developed by the CCS, are more commonly used in the health sector. However, education services currently on offer include IT, insurance and photocopier deals.
Schools minister Nick Gibb, in a letter to a Labour MP last month over funding cuts, urged schools to utilise the deals – such as buying new photocopiers – to meet budget shortfalls.
Tom Hadley, director of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said the government was right to explore potential efficiencies.
But he added: “In many instances schools are turning to supply agencies because of the shortage of teachers to fill longer-term vacancies. A new framework will not solve this fundamental problem of low supply and high demand.”
Officials are currently consulting with supply teacher providers, before launching a tender this summer.
However, some questions have arisen over the claim that schools spent £1.2 billion in 2014-15. Previous investigations by Schools Week into the figure, quoted in the CCS presentation, found inconsistencies with what academies were reported to have spent, and what they did spend.
For instance, the Robert Clack School in Dagenham, east London, was recorded as spending nearly £1 million on supply teachers in 2014-15, a figure that works out at £526 per child – the highest spend in the country.
However, the school told the BBC the figures were “misleading” as they included spend on counsellors, extra-curricular sports staff and continued professional development.