Trust boss sets up ‘school-owned’ teacher supply agency

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An academy trust boss who set up a staff absence protection provider has now set up what he calls the only “school-owned” teacher supply service. 

The chief executive of the Bishop Wilkinson Education Trust, Nick Hurn, in 2018 launched a mutual that aimed to offer schools cheaper sickness cover and ensure they retained surpluses for themselves.   

He has since created a spin-off recruitment company called Schools Mutual Services, which provides substitute staff at short notice.   

Schools Week analysis in January showed maintained primaries and secondaries forked out £622 million, or £171 per pupil, on supply cover in 2021-22, a five-year high.  

‘Gaps not easily filled by supply teacher numbers’

Hurn, whose trust runs 48 schools in the north east, said the new company was an attempt to ensure less money was taken “out of the public purse”.   

Nick Hurn

“We’re trying to be a disruptor in the market. We were surprised about how much profit supply companies actually make and the amounts being paid to teachers.   

“A school might be charged £140 for a particular member of staff, and the supply staff would take home £90. In that example, we pay that member of staff £110 as well as pension and national insurance.”  

Ofsted had noted the spike in Covid absences “left gaps not easily filled by the limited number of supply teachers”.  

Hurn described this as a “problem” for the company as “there aren’t a great number of people out there”.   

Academy trusts among first in company

“We tend to get people moving to us from existing companies, ECTs [early career teachers], people who have retired who want to work a few days a week – we have a whole range of people we target.”  

Hurn estimates that the first of his companies, the not-for-profit Education Mutual, now has almost 2,500 schools across England on its books.    

Schools Mutual Services, formed in 2021, is said to have more than 100 north-east primaries and secondaries signed up.  

Bishop Wilkinson and the 39-school Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust both use the company, which describes itself as “only school-owned supply and recruitment service”. It provides teaching, support and business-related roles.

How academy trust boss juggles roles

Accounts published last summer showed it had more than £123,000 “cash at bank and in hand”.   

Hurn said Schools Mutual Services was “breaking about even because we’re trying to expand the business and we’re just early days”. Its vice-chair is South Shields executive headteacher Sir Ken Gibson. 

However, full-time staff run the company. “I’m basically working on the strategic side of things – I run the board meetings and rely on the people who are working behind the scenes on the operational side of things,” Hurn said.

Both of the ventures are run as mutuals, which means they are owned by their customers. Surplus cash is returned to members through benefits.  

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