Labour mulls creation of state-funded supply teacher agency

Labour will look into the feasibility of creating a state-funded supply teacher agency to compete with commercial providers and save schools £500 million a year, Angela Rayner has announced.

The shadow education secretary told the Labour Party conference today that she has tasked Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, with setting up a teacher supply service – should the party win the next election.

Labour will begin by creating a “national substitute teacher register”, modelled on a system already used in Northern Ireland. The service will allow schools to book the teachers they need at short notice from a government-held register of accredited teachers in the local area, Labour said.

It builds on a similar service created by the government earlier this year, which gives schools access to a pool of government-approved supply teacher agencies, which details of things like the mark-up charged by each provider. Labour’s plan, however, will cut out the agencies entirely.

Labour has also pledged to examine the feasibility of setting up its own state supply agency to compete with commercial organisations providing the same service, and will review whether further regulation of supply teacher fees is needed to “stop the exorbitant and escalating costs seen in the industry in recent years”.

Rayner said schools spent £556 million on recruitment agency fees alone in 2015/16, an average of more than £25,000 for every school in England.

“The cost of free market failure is highest in the most important area of schools’ spending. Their staff,” said Rayner.

“Years of real terms pay cuts, rising workloads, and failure to plan the workforce have created a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

“The result is that private recruitment agencies rake in over half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money every year, in fees alone. Our money, spent on profit not pay.”

Rayner said there was “no bigger waste in our education system” than the money spent with such agencies.

“So led by our shadow schools minister Mike Kane, we’ll set out plans for a state funded teacher supply service, fixing the failure of the free market, we will cut out the waste and stopping the exploitation of agency workers.”