The NEU does not endorse supply agencies – the agency system drains public money from the education service while driving down pay.  The NEU is pursuing an active Alternatives to Agencies (A2A) campaign.  However, given that so many educators continue to be required to secure much of their work via agencies, the NEU offers this advice to help you secure the best deal from agency employment.

Know your worth and don’t accept work at any price

Know your worth. Decide what your minimum rate will be, and don’t go below it easily.  There is obviously a risk that the agency will look to others when work becomes available, but if you want to establish a minimum rate you will have to stick to your guns.  Remember – you don’t simply have to accept whatever the agency initially says it will pay you.

Know the current statutory daily rates for supply teachers directly engaged by schools. Agencies are rarely willing to pay that much for teaching work – but those rates are a key point of reference.

Know how much you were being paid each day in your last regular post – keep your payslips handy as evidence, in particular for whenever you become entitled to additional pay under the Agency Worker Regulations.

Back up your case.  Make sure the agency understands your experience and what you offer to schools.  Agencies want schools to be repeat customers – and that repeat business is prompted by schools being happy with the staff the agency provides.

Make the most of your qualifications and specialism.  The NEU doesn’t support subject-based pay generally, but you can expect to be paid more in some subjects, roles and settings.

Make sure you know the expectations and responsibilities attached to each placement, especially for longer term ones.  If, for example, you will be expected to undertake planning, marking, recording and reporting work and pastoral duties not required in truly casual supply work, that increased time and responsibility should be reflected in what you are paid.

Be prepared not to work with agencies who won’t pay you what you are worth – that will be better for you and others as well in the long run.

Choose your agency carefully

Find out which agencies are deemed to be the best and most reliable in terms or pay.  Ask other people working on supply and ask your regional office to put you in touch with Supply Teacher Officers or Supply Organising Forum members in your area.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the agency about pay when you first establish contact with them.  You are interviewing them, more than they are interviewing you.

Check whether the agency has any of the quality accreditations awarded by the trade bodies REC or APSCO – this may not necessarily mean more pay, but it should mean better admin standards, for agency workers as well as schools.

Check whether the agency operates through the Crown Commercial Services procurement scheme in England or the Welsh Government scheme in Wales.  These provide various benefits for agency workers such as limits on the application of finders’ fees and, in Wales, minimum rates of pay.

The paperwork and the contract

Make sure you are paid on PAYE.  Don’t accept the argument that you have to be paid via an umbrella company.  Agencies may want you to sign up to an umbrella company to save it the work involved in paying you directly – but there will be extra deductions involved.  Insist on PAYE through the agency’s own payroll system and insist on the same rate of pay.  If the agency refuses, be willing to look elsewhere.

Ensure you get your minimum rate in writing as far as possible.  The agency is required to give you a “key information document”, setting out the minimum rate you can expect and a sample payslip illustrating take home pay.  (You aren’t then obliged to work for that rate, and neither is the agency precluded from offering you a hgher rate for engagements.)

Make sure it is clear how much you are going to be paid when you accept each offer of a placement – every daily placement is a separate contract.  Whether you deal with the agency by telephone or via a mobile app, respond on every occasion in writing (by email or text) and confirm the date, the school and the pay rate.

Ask for more pay regularly

Pay isn’t a one-off conversation.  Return to it regularly, especially when you have just finished a successful engagement which may lead to a repeat booking.

Encourage positive feedback from your schools. If classes are behaving and learning, invite senior staff to see what’s going on. Agencies value feedback from schools, but good feedback also adds leverage when you are seeking increased pay.

If you know that a school wants you, or that a school is challenging to work in, then you may have a competitive advantage over the agency in terms of what you can persuade it to pay.

Ask for a higher rate when you are going to incur extra costs – for example, if it’s quite a distance to travel, what about increasing the rate given the cost of fuel? 

Talk to others regularly

As advised above, talk to other supply educators.  Don’t accept any arguments from the agency that pay is a confidential matter that can’t be shared.

When you’re working in a school, talk to other staff and make contact with the NEU workplace rep.  Make sure school leaders are aware how much agency supply staff are paid when you get the opportunity – they know what they pay the agency, but they don’t always know what the agency takes and how much you get.  All of that may change attitudes to using agencies.

Don’t undercut yourself and others

Don’t work for less than your minimum rate unless you really need to.  And, if you are a teacher, don’t accept cover supervisor jobs in any circumstances.  The role of cover supoervisor is distinctly different from the role of teacher. Roles which are genuinely cover supervision are support staff roles - and there are supply support staff who need this work.  Teaching roles should not be advertised as cover supervision.  If teachers accept such work, they will end up teaching, and more schools will be tempted to offer teaching work under that guise, making the situation even worse for everyone.

Make sure you get your Agency Worker Regulations rights

All supply agencies must comply with the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 (AWR) – see the NEU agency worker guidance here.  

Discuss the agency’s understanding of the AWR at an early stage.  It is best to know that the agency understands and accepts the law.

Ensure you are paid the appropriate higher rates whenever you have been working for 12 weeks with the same hirer.  The agency should do this automatically.  Take advice from the Union if they don’t.  You don’t need to pursue the issue with the agency right away – the time limit on claims is 3 months after you leave an engagement - but make sure you seek advice from the Union early on.

Try for direct employment

Direct employment is likely to be better paid because you should then be paid according to national pay scales and the school’s pay policy (and of course the agency’s cut is absent).  You should also have access to the Teachers' Pension Scheme or Local Government Pension Scheme when directly employed in teaching or support staff roles.

Use the NEU advice here to make approaches to schools for direct employment.

Stay in touch with the agency

Stay in touch with your agency regularly.  Make them aware when you are getting better paid work elsewhere.  Try to maintain good and pro-active relations – ask them what work is newly available, update them on your current placement, etc.  Bear in mind that the person on the end of the telephone is a human being, however much the NEU disagrees with the agency model.

And finally…

Don’t be put off at the first time of asking.  You may get turned down for more pay.  Other people may be prepared to work at the offered rate.  But the more members who take a stance with regard to their pay, the more agencies will feel the pressure to increase the rates for all.