Thursday 2 April 2020

An appeal from supply educators for urgent support

I am one of many agency staff who have been told that our services are no longer needed because of the closure of school and colleges during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Of course, once laid-off, the chances of any of us finding work as teachers or TAs over the next few months are also slim. If unfairly denied continuing employment alongside the rest of our colleagues in schools, we will be left having to pursue agencies and umbrella companies to win 'furlough pay'. Even if successful, that still means a cut in income for many weeks ahead.

To explain the situation, I am posting the letter below which was drafted following an online meeting of members of the NEU Supply Network yesterday and sent to the NEU General Secretaries:

Update: Also read here:

Dear Kevin and Mary,

Following the Union’s “Town Hall” meeting on Monday, members of the NEU Supply Teachers Network held a further Zoom Conference this afternoon and agreed that we should write to you before your Q&A meetings with the Executive and District Officers this week.

We know that you will recognise that Supply educators, teachers, cover supervisors and TAs, are some of the NEU members that have been placed in the greatest employment difficulty by the closure of schools during the present crisis. The vulnerability of staff who rely on uncertain work and the goodwill – or otherwise – of private agencies and umbrella companies has been sharply exposed.

We are asking that the Union makes the defence of supply educators one of its key priorities over the weeks and months ahead. A bold campaign led by the Union, both nationally and by Districts and Branches, can help make sure that supply staff are not left without continuing employment, nor left facing substantial cuts in their income.

We are grateful for the efforts that have been made to confirm with the Government, that supply agencies are eligible to make claims for ‘furloughing’ through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This should provide an important ‘backstop’ for agency staff, who are without any firm commitments for employment after Easter and who now face day-to-day hiring drying up completely.

Regrettably, as the Union will be aware through calls to the Advice Line and Local Officers, in the absence of the full legislation, many agencies are still not confirming whether they are prepared to support staff claiming through the scheme. Some have categorically said they will not or, in the case of some umbrella companies, that they will make payments based on the minimum wage. For staff such as agency TAs, even 80% of full earnings is still a worrying cut to an already low income.

The Network is concerned that the present strategy is not working. ‘Furloughing’ should not be our first port of call when, certainly for staff on long-term assignments, schools will already have budgeted for paying the costs of agency staff for next term. Instead of treating supply staff inequitably, the Union should demand schools continue to employ them fully and involve them in rotas, distance learning and other temporary arrangements just as they are asking other members of staff to do.

The Government says in its advice on the Job Retention Scheme, “where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion”. The fact that this position should also extend to agency workers, at the very least those covered by the Agency Workers Regulations, is also highlighted in the LGA advice that “in many cases this means that agency workers will be entitled to the same rate of pay as a comparable employee, so if a comparable employee is being paid during the school closure period, then the agency worker may be entitled to be paid”.

We therefore ask that you urge the Secretary of State to make clear that schools should be continuing to pay supply staff in full. He should also make clear that, for those staff where furloughing is the only option, agencies are expected to meet their responsibilities and furlough staff based on the highest possible earnings.

We also ask you to call on the Executive and District and Branch Officers to support a campaign to publicise these demands and to pressurise and expose employers and agencies who fail to stand by supply staff at this time of national crisis. A letter should be sent to every school, and NEU rep, setting out the Union’s expectations and seeking the support of school groups in winning them.

Yours Sincerely,
Niall Bradley
Chair, NEU Supply Teacher Network

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