Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Supporting Supply Teachers

(See update at end of post)

Many supply teachers, who provide qualified teacher cover for absent colleagues, are facing constant insecurity. Just like workers in other jobs on ‘zero-hour contracts’, they cannot be sure of a regular income. Worse, thanks to the increasing role of privatised agencies in providing supply cover to schools, most are also paid far below the rates of pay that apply under the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).
Most supply teachers used to be employed directly through Local Authority supply pools. Where these pools still exist, they guarantee that supply teachers are paid at STPCD rates and also help make sure that schools know they can call on colleagues who are used to working in that area.
However, as Local Authority overview of education has diminished under both Tory and Labour administration and supply agencies have taken over, supply teachers find themselves earning well below STPCD rates. That doesn’t necessarily mean that schools making savings – instead the agencies rake in easy profits by taking at least £50 a day as their ‘cut’ of the money schools are charged by the agency. They are also outside the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
Further pressure on supply teachers, and on education, has stemmed from the Labour Government’s “Workload Agreement” (which the NUT refused to sign) that allowed schools to cover classes with cover supervisors and HLTAs. This has put a further downward pressure on supply teachers’ pay and employment prospects.
Some teachers have opted for the flexibility of supply work but many others have been driven into insecurity by being bullied out of permanent jobs. In either case, they complain that many schools give supply teachers inadequate support, even down to the simple things like showing them where the staff toilets are! The NUT argues that supply teachers should, as a minimum, receive some kind of ‘welcome pack’ with basic information needed to find their way around a school, and to be given class procedures, class lists etc.
As supply teachers receive no holiday pay (as their daily rate is meant to include provision for holiday breaks), the summer months can be a particularly hard time for supply teachers as financial pressures mount.

The NUT has around 20,000 supply teacher members. Just as we are acting to defend the attacks on teachers as a whole, the Union has a responsibility to organise these colleagues to oppose the attacks on their pay and conditions. In fact, with some clear campaigning, exposing the worst agencies and the way cover is being provided ‘on the cheap’, the NUT could win some victories too.
The advice for Supply Teachers on the NUT website has recently been updated ( ). It points out that the Agency Worker Regulations should now make sure that a supply teacher employed for more than 12 continuous weeks has to be paid at the same rate of pay as if they were employed directly by the school. However, some agencies are trying to find ways around the Regulations, not least by making sure that 12 continuous weeks are never met!

Under pressure from supply teacher members, the NUT held its first Supply Teachers Conference in July. It was an angry Conference ( see my report on ) that successfully brought together supply teachers from across the Union. Now that Conference’s proposals need to be put into action.
At the NUT National Executive last week, the initial proposals agreed were to:
1) Develop a charter of good practice to promote to governing bodies
2) Encourage local Associations to hold meetings of reps – and, I suggested, supply teachers – to encourage implementation of that charter
3) Collect information for some local ‘naming and shaming’ to expose the agencies with the worst rates of exploitation.
Other proposals being looked at include a further Conference of supply teachers, a national lobby of the DfE next year and a fringe meeting at 2014 NUT Conference.
As part of the campaign, Betty Joseph (Black Member Equality Seat on the NUT National Executive) and I will be running a session at this week’s NUT Divisional Secretaries’ Briefing to encourage Associations to get this work underway.
UPDATE: here are some of the points that came out of Thursday's session: 
Organising Supply Teachers (or should we say ‘Guest Teachers’? )
  • Contacting the supply teachers on the NUT Division Membership List
  • Inviting them to a meeting – may need to experiment with best time/venue
  • Seeing if you can find a supply teacher rep/team of supply teachers do lead the work locally and to develop a Supply Teachers’ network
  • Have a supply teacher rep on the Local NUT Officers’ Committee (e.g. Wirral)
  • A further National Conference but also regional events for supply teachers too.
 Supporting Supply Teachers
  • Ask reps to speak to Heads to encourage them to use best practice possible
  • Some schools do produce good information packs for visiting staff – get examples of best practice
  • Organising CPD – e.g East Sussex NUT has organised Saturday morning sessions with speakers and then a meal to give training and build a network
  • Information needed in particular to advise those still to complete NQT induction on the procedures
  • Information on STPCD rates of pay – and how holiday pay is covered, any right to sign-on in summer?

Exposing the worst – highlighting the better agencies (and schools)
  • Ask supply teachers to rate agencies – support, CPD, rates of pay etc. Could use a ‘Survey Monkey’
  • Also see if teachers can help advise on what agencies charge schools to see rate of exploitation
  • ‘League tables’ of agencies – and publicise to supply colleagues.
  • Naming-and-shaming protests to get public attention and to expose the rip-off, combined with highlighting good agencies and perhaps encouraging schools to use them (‘play the market!’)
  • Expose misuse of unqualified staff – a qualified teacher for every child!
  • Writing to agencies to warn them off any illegal strike-breaking activities too!
  • Link up with other unions fighting misuse of agency workers too.
  • Should we support supply teacher co-operatives as way to protect from worst of agency exploitation – and/or mainly push above all for LA Supply Pools – which do exist (e.g Southwark) ?


S Horn said...

Interesting article

Many schools now use agencies to fill maternity leave positions and other vacancies as well as for day to day cover. The teachers involved have to plan and assess but have no holiday pay and often get around 80 pounds a day.
The union should campaign for all short term posts to be on the same conditions as per the school.

Kim Matthews RECOOP said...

At last the plight of the visiting teacher will be moving up the NUT agenda! Well done! I have mostly found the welcome pack from the schools to be quite good. Above, there is little action about the two main issues of pay and the size of the agency commissions. Even a 'good' agency, paying the visiting teaching more than other agencies, will be charging the school more than their commercial rivals, still creaming off 30%-50% of a school's supply budget that should be kept for the benefit of the children. A visiting teacher and school coop will raise pay and keep the funding in the school.