‘We treat supply teachers as lowly agency workers – that must change’

A few years ago, I took up a supply teaching post at a school in South Yorkshire that was struggling after a poor OFSTED judgement.

Thursday, 11th April 2019, 5:00 am
Supply teacher

There’s a cruel tendency in teaching – even amongst some of the most experienced and professional staff – to have a somewhat sceptical approach to those who turn up on supply.

Time and time again I’ve heard full time teachers ask what must be wrong with the teacher if they are having to get work on supply.

The truth is, there are a lot of people who are working on supply because it suits them at that particular time – for me, I had just finished a fixed term contract and was filling in time until I started a permanent role in September.

It’s also true that I have seen truly horrendous supply teachers who have no control over a class and I’ve even witnessed some reading a book in lessons they are covering.

While these may give the whole cohort of supply teachers a bad name in some cases, it should be noted that a great many supply teachers are saviours in a modern age of teaching when so many people are off on long-term sickness leave.

And this was certainly the case at the school I started at, where I was stunned to learn that as much as 40 per cent of the teaching staff was drafted in through supply agencies.

Being a supply teacher is not easy.

Arriving at different schools where you are not aware of the exact behaviour policy, where you are not in full knowledge of the culture, where you don’t know the area and where the kids smell the blood of a newbie – it all adds up to a potentially frightening experience.

No wonder so many long-term supply teachers are turning their back on the career.

I can remember being asked to sign in on the day I started and being issued with a lanyard and makeshift badge that actually had ‘supply staff’ written on it – you may as well have painted a target on my back.

Oh yes, the life of a supply teacher is hard and that’s the day to day stuff – before you even begin to start on not being paid for the holidays and not having contributions to the teacher pension scheme.

It is, of course, scandalous that you have two people doing the same job that are getting different pay and conditions.

A supply teacher who is sent to cover a couple of terms at a school will not get paid over the holidays, though they have put in the same shift as everybody who is, and they will have to fend for themselves when it comes to a pension.

We treat supply teachers as if they are lowly agency workers who do not deserve the same terms.

When I was experiencing my time on supply, I found it appalling that you had to fork out over £40 for your own criminal records check just to get on the books. This is essentially paying for the privilege of working, something that teachers starting at schools don’t have to do.

But it doesn’t end there.

The supply agencies literally do their best to rip you off – I would get calls at 7am in the morning asking me to complete a day in a secondary school working as a cover assistant and getting about £50 for the day.

When I refused, they would often ring back ten minutes later and offer me the day as a teacher at a much greater rate of pay. They would literally try to get away with as much as they can to get money from the school and pocket it for themselves.

Using public money in this way cannot be beneficial to the community and private companies should not be trying to make a fast buck at the expense of public sector professionals.

It’s good to see Wales getting tough with supply agencies and making sure that supply teachers working in the country get a minimum rate for the job.

But introducing this rate in Wales, of course, is nowhere near good enough for the supply teachers experiencing a raw deal in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. We need a UK-wide regulation of the supply teaching industry that gives fair rates of pay, fair pensions and fair holidays.