- Supply teachers who can adapt quickly and effectively to different schools, pupils, subjects and age groups play a vital role in our education system. Nevertheless, supply teachers have seen marked changes to their employment patterns in recent years, and not for the better. There has been a sharp rise in the number of supply teacher agencies, which rake off scarce funds from schools to maximise their profits whilst minimising the pay they offer supply teachers.1
- In 2015-162 over £750m was spent on supply cover in local authority (LA) schools alone, of which over £500m was accounted for by supply agencies. Spending on supply agencies by academies and free schools amounted to an equally concerning £440m3 in 2014-15.
- The average daily charge to schools by a supply agency for a teacher can be as much as £100 more than the amount paid to that teacher. Every time a supply teacher is engaged in this way, taxpayers’ money is funnelled into the pockets of private agencies. The NUT fundamentally opposes the way in which supply agencies drain public money which should be spent on children’s education.
- Despite overall teacher shortages, agency supply teachers’ pay has declined in recent years, not just compared with teachers’ pay rates nationally, but also relative to rates typically offered by agencies in the past. In addition to poor levels of pay, agency supply teachers don’t have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS), partly because supply agencies are not currently permitted to participate in the TPS, a matter the NUT is pursuing with the DfE in order to secure equal access to the TPS for all teachers working in state- funded schools. Supply teachers are also denied national sick pay/maternity pay provisions to which other teachers have access – and they can be dismissed without notice.
- On the other hand, supply teachers who work directly for a school or a local authority (LA) supply “pool” are paid at national pay rates and have access to the TPS. Unfortunately the availability of such work has declined in recent years as the profile of supply agencies has increased. According to NUT supply teacher surveys, the proportion of supply teachers reporting that they obtained most of their work through agencies was 77% in 2016, up from 50% in 2010. In 2016 less than 4% mainly found work through a local authority supply “pool”, compared to 11% in 2010; while 17% obtained work directly from schools, down from 39% in 2010.4
- “Finder’s fees” (charged to schools wishing to take on a supply teacher as a permanent employee) represent another cost imposed by agencies. Such fees can be as much as 20%- 25% of the employee’s first year’s salary, a sum likely to be unaffordable for many schools.
- The Agency Worker Regulations (AWR) 2011 do not always protect agency teachers from sharp practice. After 12 weeks in the same role and with the same hirer, agency staff should get the same basic pay and conditions as directly-employed staff. However, some agencies and schools try to avoid the legislation - in particular by dispensing with the teacher before the 12 week period is up. Often, the same teacher is then re-engaged with the ‘clock’ having returned to Week 1. There are also reports that some agencies simply do not inform supply teachers of their rights under AWR.
- A declining number of agency supply teachers are still offered work via “umbrella companies” – however, the NUT advises members against entering into such arrangements wherever possible. Umbrella companies used to exploit legal loopholes on payroll taxes, claiming they were reducing workers’ tax bills; however, since the regulations were amended in 2016, such claims (which were always doubtful) are now wholly without foundation. Teachers should always remember that ultimately the teacher, not the umbrella company, is liable should HMRC find evidence of non-payment or under-payment of tax.
- Some teachers are now finding work through “limited company” arrangements; however the Union has significant reservations about these too, given that they are based on a strict definition of self-employment which teachers are unlikely to satisfy. As with umbrella companies, NUT members are advised not to enter into such arrangements.
- The NUT is campaigning for the restoration of LA supply pools where these have been discontinued. Teachers working for LA supply pools benefit from employment according to the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) and can access the TPS. Another model which the NUT wishes to see encouraged and adopted more widely is the “supply register”. NUT conference policy is to support “central supply registers” - based on the Northern Ireland model - which are publicly accountable, non-profit making, paying to scale and giving access to the TPS - and to campaign to promote such registers in local authorities.
- Recently various digital platforms have been developed to match teachers and schools quickly and effectively via a smartphone “app”. Schools pay a fee to the provider (usually much lower than typical agency fees); they then directly employ the teacher on SPTCD pay rates (although this may be restricted to the Main Pay Range minimum) and enable access to TPS membership. The NUT is closely monitoring the introduction of this technology. However, the Union remains opposed in principle to the involvement of commercial intermediaries in relation to the employment of supply teachers, despite any apparent advantages such schemes may confer.
- The increasing dominance of agencies, the cost of agency teachers and the current education funding crisis all mean that the use of the supply teacher is under threat. All too often schools are resorting to cheaper alternatives such as higher level teaching assistants or cover supervisors. Despite the undoubted professionalism of such staff, they lack the necessary training and qualifications to deliver the lessons of the quality and consistency which our children deserve.
- The NUT has updated and expanded its Charter for Supply Teachers5. This document sets out the Union's aspirations for its supply teacher members and the steps needed to achieve them. In particular the Charter calls for supply teachers’ pay and conditions to be brought in line with the national pay arrangements for school teachers and for all supply teachers to have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Government, agencies, schools and supply teachers themselves all have their part to play in securing fair and equal treatment for supply teachers. The Union believes that the achievement of the Charter’s key objectives will be good for students and schools as well as for teachers.
- The NUT is committed to the principle that schools should only employ qualified teachers in all schools, whatever the context. When a member of school staff is away, the response should invariably be to call upon a qualified supply teacher to deliver high quality learning experiences for the pupils concerned. Any other option is simply not good enough.
1 It is thought that the number of agencies in England and Wales is at least 250, and this figure may exclude many single person operations.
2LA and school expenditure, 2015-16. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/la-and-school-expenditure-2015-to-2016-financial-year
3Income and expenditure in academies in England, 2014-15. (Most recent available figures). See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/541051/SFR27_2016_Main_Text.pdf
4 See NUT supply teacher page at https://www.teachers.org.uk/members-reps/supply-teachers
5 See the NUT supply teacher page at https://www.teachers.org.uk/members-reps/supply-teachers