NEU considers building a supply teacher vacancy service

The National Education Union will discuss proposals for a union-run supply teacher vacancy service after members demanded action on agencies that make exorbitant charges on schools but pay their staff a pittance.

Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers section of the union voted at their annual conference today to back proposals for an NEU-run third-party platform that would link supply teachers with schools directly, cutting out expensive middlemen.

I know one school that spent £400,000 on supply in one year

The ATL’s executive will now discuss the idea with colleagues from the National Union of Teachers. If the proposal gets broad agreement on the NEU’s joint executive council, it will officially investigate the viability of such a scheme.

During today’s debate, conference delegates spoke of the huge costs faced by schools that use supply agencies. Karam Bales, who proposed the motion, said he was aware of one school that spent £400,000 on supply teachers in one year.

“Supply agencies charge around £180 to £240 a day on average,” he said. “The average remuneration for supply agency staff is around £80 to £120. If you find a good teacher from an agency and want to hire them permanently, the agencies will charge between £2,000 and £5,000 on average for your to transfer them across. In a time of stretched budgets this is unsustainable. I know one school that spent £400,000 on supply in one year.

“Wouldn’t it be better if we could do away with these agencies so schools can pay supply staff directly?”

Last year, the National Audit Office warned that difficulties in filling vacancies are adding to the pressure on school budgets, as schools “have to pay a premium for agency and supply teachers”.

Schools’ spending on temporary staff has increased in recent years. Maintained schools spent three per cent of their budgets on temporary staff in 2015-16, compared with 2.6 per cent in 2010-11. In academies, spending rose from two per cent in 2012-13 to 2.2 per cent in 2015-16.

The ATL motion approved today calls on the union’s leadership to lobby the government to restore and fund local authority supply lists – platforms run by councils that allow supply teachers to find vacancies without using a costly agency.

However, Bales has “little hope” that the supply issue would be solved by the government, and wants the NEU to take matters into its own hands.

“So I propose the NEU set up its own third-party platform. We can include the other unions, in particular the leadership unions, as an example of the strength in unity the ATL and NUT have embraced,” he continued.

Last year, the government announced plans to create a national pool of “trusted” supply teacher agencies in a bid to help schools cut down on spiralling agency bills. The service should be ready this September, ministers say.

But unions want to go further. Last month, school leaders’ union ASCL demanded greater regulation of teacher recruitment agencies, after heads warned their spending on supply teachers had increased.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could do away with these agencies so schools can pay supply staff directly

And today, Hampshire supply teacher and ATL member Julie Fraser spoke of concerns among colleagues about poor pay and their inability to pay into the teachers’ pension scheme. Supply teachers are also prevented from communicating directly with school staff in advance of their placements.

Other supply teachers reported being forced to work for umbrella companies and taking part in unpaid trial shifts, according to Fraser, who said the reintroduction of LA supply lists would give supply teachers better pay.

“Teachers would be able to approach schools directly, developing a relationship with them and maybe able to access work in advance. The staff and children would recognise them, and the supply teacher would know the children. Everyone would benefit.”

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  1. The problem with this is that when there is a reduced supply of teachers it costs money to find them and to cover the risk that the school won’t be happy with them.
    I don’t think a union supply agency is a bad idea as it already has good contacts so set up costs will be lower and they will pay more – but they will still have to charge schools for their work (and 15% of salary for a permanent worker is about as low as you can sustainably go). Long term, the school that is paying £400k for supply needs to seriously look at its employment practices and retention rate and put some of this money into solving these problems.