Friday 21 February 2014

Supply teachers - NUT must organise to expose the profiteers

If you want evidence about the dire effect of privatisation on teachers' pay and conditions, you only need to talk to a supply teacher.

Long before 'pay portability' became an issue for permanent staff, supply teachers had already faced a 'race to the bottom' as unregulated agencies sought to hire their labour as cheaply as possible to make maximum profits, undercutting the official rates set down in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document. The increasing use of cover supervisors and teaching assistants to cover absences has tended to push rates of pay even lower. 
Most directly-employed Local Authority supply pools became some of the earliest casualties of Government policy - of all the main parties - to delegate more education funding directly to schools while privatising services and cutting council budgets. There was only one clear winner - the supply agencies that sprang up to corner the market. 

It has proved to be a very lucrative business. For example, Teaching Personnel's profits rose from £4.5M in 2008 to £7.5M by 2010. These, and other agencies, generate these profits by taking perhaps £50 a day as their ‘cut’ of the money that schools are charged by the agency for providing them with a teacher. The agencies are also outside the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. This is profit that has been made from education budgets that should have been benefiting children and teachers - not lining the pockets of profiteers.

While some teachers have opted for the flexibility of supply work, increasing numbers have been driven into insecurity by being bullied out of permanent jobs. Just like workers in other jobs on ‘zero-hour contracts’, they cannot be sure of a regular income. 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! 

Over the last year, and thanks to lobbying from supply teachers, the anger at the unjust way that these colleagues have been treated has started to be given a focus through the NUT. A Supply Teachers' Conference held last July helped to bring colleagues together and has been followed by the production of an NUT 'Supply Teachers' Charter'. (see report of the Conference on

The Charter is a good initial step, raising the profile of the campaign to defend supply colleagues and calling for best practice to be implemented in schools (see picture above). However, feedback from supply colleagues is that the Charter, while welcome, isn't seen to be as yet anywhere near enough.

While the NUT Charter rightly calls for supply teachers to be employed directly on the proper 'rate for the job' , the harsh reality is that most colleagues will still have to look for work through agencies. That's why I believe that we need to start to go on to the offensive and start to expose the agencies' profiteering racket, for example through ‘naming and shaming’ to expose those with the worst rates of exploitation.  

There is certainly an opportunity for some stunts and lobbies to 'out' the worst culprits and get the story in the headlines. I also support the call for a national lobby of the DfE or Parliament to highlight the issue.

Of course, all of this will need organisation. I helped run a workshop at last autumn's NUT Divisional Secretaries Briefing to discuss how Local NUT Associations can help the campaign. (See: 

The key has to be organising supply teachers themselves, bringing together colleagues who, by the nature of their work, can easily be left working in isolation. Some Local Associations have already organised local supply teacher networks and, at this year's NUT Annual Conference in Brighton, an official fringe meeting gives supply colleagues present an opportunity to further develop a national Supply Teachers' Network. 

I would support the call from Supply Teachers for the Union to organise a Supply Teachers Working party comprised of regional supply reps to inform the Union and to help organise national campaigns. However, I would suggest that a self-organised network, along the lines of the existing Sixth Form College network, with support and resources from the Union, might be the most effective way of building a strong organisation that can start to challenge the exploitation of supply teachers.

The campaign must continue, not just to defend supply teachers, but to warn every teacher and parent of the price to be paid when private businesses are allowed to make profits out of school budgets.

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