NEU supply member survey for 2023/24

The NEU’s annual supply member survey examines a range of issues relating to supply staff and their pay and employment.

The NEU’s annual supply member survey examines a range of issues relating to supply staff and their pay and employment.  The evidence provided this year by more than 500 respondents enables us to form a reliable picture of the issues facing members in this sector.

This year’s survey, conducted from November to December 2023, received responses from supply teachers (97% of respondents) and from supply support staff (3%, of whom 2% worked in classroom-based roles and 1% in other support staff roles).  

Main findings in 2023:

•    More supply members are receiving higher pay from agencies – but this is still not high enough;
•    Agency Worker Regulations are being regularly flouted by employers and enforcement is weak; and
•    Good progress is being made on member awareness of tax avoidance schemes by intermediaries such as umbrella companies.

Working as a supply educator – why and how

Reasons for deciding to work in a supply capacity

As in the past few years, the biggest single reason for moving to supply work among the current supply workforce now appears to be the workload in permanent posts.  This was by some margin the single most widespread reason cited by this year’s respondents, with 34% identifying this as the main factor in their decision.   Other significant reasons for switching to supply work continued to be “it fits in with my family/home life circumstances” (20%) and, this year, “retired, wish to supplement my pension / maintain some involvement in education” (15%).

Many respondents cited their disillusionment with the long hours, excessive paperwork and testing/target driven culture in permanent work.  Others cited work-related ill-health and stress or said they had left permanent posts due to management bullying or redundancy.

Some respondents did view the role in a positive light, relishing the different workplaces, settings and challenges involved, or seeing supply work as a stepping-stone to a permanent position.

One respondent indicated that they had taken up supply work as they were fleeing domestic abuse.  Whilst one response may seem a small number compared to the total number of responses received, this still represents unimaginable suffering on the part of one of our members.

Actively seeking work

When asked if they were actively seeking work at present, nearly half (48%) of respondents said they were doing so, whilst 52% were not.   This is broadly similar to last year’s findings (45% actively seeking; 55% not).

Getting supply work

The proportion of supply staff who principally or mainly obtain their work through agencies has increased again, after falling in 2022.  This year, 82 per cent of respondents now mainly obtain work via agencies.   The figure had been climbing steadily from 50% in 2010 and 67% in 2014 right up to 83% in 2021, before falling back to 78% last year.  

The proportion of supply staff mainly securing supply work through a local authority “supply pool” was 1%, down from 2% in 2022 and down significantly from 8% in 2014 and 11% in 2010.  Another 1 per cent sourced their work principally through a supply pool run by a supply agency, whilst a further 1 per cent secured supply work via a supply register set up with their employer (LA, governing body or MAT).  Only 11% now secure most or all of their supply work directly with schools, lower than the 12% in 2022, and much lower than the 25% in 2014 and 39% in 2010.

Desire for permanent employment

A much higher proportion of respondents (36%) said they would take up a permanent post now if offered one, than said they had originally taken up supply work due to being unable to find a permanent post (13%). For many supply staff, therefore, a conscious choice to enter the supply sector can prove difficult to reverse later on in favour of regular employment.

Experiences with agency employment

Agencies – which are the biggest? 

Respondents to this year's survey again referred to working via around 250 different supply agencies. The following were the twelve largest agencies in terms of staff employed or placed. 

  • Teaching Personnel: 7%
  • New Directions: 5%
  • Vision: 5%
  • Hays Education: 4%
  • Tradewind: 3%
  • Protocol: 2%
  • Monarch: 2%
  • Simply Education: 2%
  • Randstad Education: 2%
  • Reed: 2%
  • Supply Desk: 1%
  • Capita: 1%

The twelve agencies listed here are almost identical to those listed in previous surveys.  Teaching Personnel occupied the top spot in 2014 and has remained there every year since.

Rates of pay

The figures in the following section apply to supply teachers only, as the number of responses for support staff roles was insufficient to be reliable statistically.

Respondents were asked to specify their current standard daily rate of pay from their agency (banded as £100 or less, £100-124, £125-149 and £150 or more).

For short-term or daily supply engagements, 36% of respondents said they were paid £150 or more per day.  This is almost twice the figure found in the 2022 survey (19%) and around five times the percentage captured in 2020 and 2021, so this level of pay has definitely become less unusual than it once was.   Thirty-one per cent said they were paid £125-£149, down on 2022’s 42%.   Fewer respondents (19%) were paid at the lower level of £100-£124 (2022:30%) while those paid less than £100 increased from 3% (2022) to 5% this year.  Finally, 9% this year said they could not choose one single option due to their pay rate varying between placements. 

A daily rate of £100 means that even if a supply teacher works every day of the school year, they will earn around £11,000 less than a newly qualified teacher in a full-time post. Even a daily rate of £150 will pay a highly experienced supply teacher approaching £13,000 less than a teacher with 5 years of experience paid at the Main Pay Range maximum.

The majority (58%) said that their pay rate as a supply teacher was lower or significantly lower than their pay rate in their most recent employment by a school/academy or local authority.  Only 5% stated that it was higher.  Eleven per cent said it was about the same, whilst around a quarter said that they did not know, or the question did not apply to them because they had never worked for a school/academy or local authority.

The following pie chart shows how the pay rates noted above compared to those received as a supply teacher three years ago. Forty-seven per cent said they were about the same or lower, which shows how generally unresponsive agency supply pay has been to very high levels of inflation in recent times.

Last year, we asked about pay rates for longer-term assignments.   Nearly a third of respondents (30%) said they did not accept such assignments.  Among the remainder who did, 53% said they received a higher initial pay rate in such cases (2022: 66%) while 47% said they did not. 

A large number of respondents did not answer the question on specific pay rates for long-term supply work, presumably because it did not apply to them.  Excluding these, 18% reported pay rates over £200, 22% cited rates of £175-£199 while 31% said their usual rate was £150 - £175. Meanwhile, 15% said they would be paid £125-£149 while 3% stated that they would be paid less than £125 per day even for a longer assignment.  Eleven per cent said their rates varied between placements.

Individual agencies and pay rates

This year we have filtered the data to try to obtain a picture of which agencies are paying what rates to NEU members.  The following table shows the percentage of respondents who reported a particular pay range for their usual agency, with the better paying agencies towards the top and those associated with lower pay rates towards the bottom.  It is not an exact science – some agencies pay a very wide range of rates; however, the percentages and the pay rates quoted here are not made up and they represent a very real problem for our supply members.

AgencyPercentage of respondents citing a particular pay range
New Directions74% citing £150+ per day
Capita50% citing £150+ per day
Tradewind41% citing £150+ per day
Hays28% citing £150+ per day
Vision38% citing £100-£124 per day
Supply Desk43% citing £100-£124 per day
Simply Education50% citing £100-£124 per day
Teaching Personnel24% citing £100-£124 per day and 9% at <£100 per day
Reed38% citing £100-£124 per day and 13% at <£100 per day 

Agencies and pensions

While supply agencies are unable to offer membership of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to teaching staff, they must offer statutory “workplace pensions”.  This year, 73% of agency school staff (a slight decrease from 75% in 2022) confirmed that they can now build up pension provision through their agency work - but with employer contributions continuing to remain generally at the statutory minimum.  If ‘don’t know’ are excluded, this figure rises to 85%, but this still leaves 15% who said that they have not been offered a workplace pension, despite the law requiring all agencies to do so.

Key Information Document (KID)

All agencies must provide workers with a Key Information Document before they commence an assignment.  This sets out details of pay, holiday entitlements and other benefits.  Whilst 36 per cent of respondents acknowledged that they did receive a KID from their agency before commencing an assignment, more than a quarter (26%) did not.   Thirty-nine per cent, meanwhile, weren’t sure whether they had received one or not.

Holiday pay

When asked about their holiday pay, 36% responded that their holiday pay was calculated at 12.07 per cent of their working hours – the accepted formula.   Four per cent listed a wide variety of alternative methods of calculating holiday pay adopted by their agency or agencies.  Fifty-nine per cent remained unsure of how their holiday pay was calculated. 

Forty-one per cent of those surveyed said their holiday pay was paid in addition to their pay, included in their pay slip, and that they were not paid during the holidays.  Eighteen per cent said their holiday pay was deducted from their pay, included in their pay slip and they were paid during the holidays.  Six per cent said their holiday pay was paid to them via another arrangement.  Thirty-five per cent were not clear how their holiday pay was paid to them.  These figures are broadly similar to last year’s.

All this suggests that agencies need to do better at explaining their systems and processes to their workers.  Agency workers who don’t understand how holiday pay is calculated will not know how to challenge mistakes or how to go about correcting them.

Agency Worker Regulations (AWR)

At the time the survey took place, 25% of respondents were working in an agency engagement which had lasted more than 12 weeks at the same school or college.  Taking ‘don’t know’ out of the equation, only one-third of these respondents said that they had automatically been given a pay increase to “parity pay” in line with the Agency Worker Regulations 2010, leaving a massive two-thirds who had been denied parity pay.

Members were also asked about any agency engagements since 2011 which had lasted more than 12 weeks at the same school or college. Excluding ‘don’t know’, only 21% had been automatically awarded parity pay on every occasion and another 21% on some occasions, whilst 58% stated that they had never been given such a pay increase in line with the AWR.

These are extremely troubling findings and demonstrate the extent of the battle that many supply staff have on their hands in securing what is rightfully and legally theirs under the AWR.

Umbrella companies and Limited companies

Twenty-five per cent said that they were paid through an umbrella company or offshore payroll company, rather than being employed by the agency.  This was broadly similar to the corresponding figure in 2022 (22%) and follows a steady decline in such arrangements from a high of 47% in 2015. 

This year, 14% said that that their agency insisted on staff working through umbrella companies or limited company arrangements, compared with 12% in 2022, 18% in 2021, 23% in 2018 and 62% in 2017.  In 2023 respondents reported that 54% of agencies allowed respondents to be paid via PAYE as an alternative to umbrella arrangements, a little lower than the 2022 survey’s 59%. 

The NEU continues to advise members that umbrella company arrangements are not a requirement when working via agencies.

This year's survey also asked again about "limited company" arrangements. Some 13% of respondents said they work through limited company arrangements, fractionally higher than in 2022. The NEU continues to have significant reservations about the legal and tax position of supply educators about “self-employment” arrangements.

Umbrella companies and tax compliance

There is some good news regarding the NEU’s campaign to increase member awareness of tax avoidance on the part of intermediaries such as umbrella companies.  Whereas in 2022, 54% of respondents had been promised by their umbrella company that they could keep 80, 90 or 95 per cent of their wages and still be tax compliant (highly unlikely to be true) this year only 5 per cent had received such promises. Similarly, 25% of respondents in 2022 reported that their umbrella company had arranged payment so that only a fraction of their salary was paid through payroll and subject to PAYE.  This year, only 3 per cent of respondents reported this ruse.  Finally, whereas in 2022 30% of respondents indicated that their umbrella company had arranged things so that the payment from their UC was routed through various companies before it came to them, this was only cited by 4% of respondents in 2023. 

As in 2022, just under a quarter (22%) expressed the view that umbrella companies and limited company providers were not entirely clear about their fees and services.

Cover supervisor work 

A fifth (20%) of those surveyed said that they had accepted work which had been offered as “cover supervision” but had in practice required actual teaching – only slightly down from 22% in 2021. This shows a continuing worrying tendency by some schools to seek to secure supply teachers at even lower rates than those paid for supply teaching. This problem seems to be most common in the secondary sector: 35% of secondary respondents reported this happening to them, compared to only 14% of primary respondents.

Satisfaction with agencies – the advantages and disadvantages 

The survey asked those working for agencies about the advantages and disadvantages of seeking supply work in this way.

As in previous years, the main perceived advantages were access to more regular work and a greater choice of such work than could be obtained through other routes.  This year agencies were noted by 21% of respondents for their ‘efficient support’ in obtaining work (2022: 40%). The disadvantages included low pay, pay not reflecting experience, lack of training opportunities, assignments cancelled at the last minute, lack of access to TPS pensions, “finders’ fees” placing an obstacle to being offered a job at a school after a successful placement, and opaque contractual/pay arrangements. 

Current employment prospects

Availability of supply work

The survey asked teachers how often they could access work when they wanted it, and how this compared to the previous year.  

Access to agency work

Availability of supply work via agencies appears to have decreased somewhat this year.  Almost half (46%) of respondents said that they could get work almost every day, down from 57% in 2022.  Just under a third said they were able to get work about half the time, the same as in 2022 (and 2021).  Fifteen per cent said they could sometimes not get work for a week at a time, up from 9% in 2022, while 7% said they were being offered no work for weeks at a time, up from 4% in 2022.

Trends in access to work

When asked to compare their situation to last year, 9% said it was easier to get work while 30% (up from 17% in 2022) said that it was harder.  Meanwhile, 37% said it was about the same.  The challenging situation in schools at the present time has perhaps improved the outlook for the supply workforce, as the education workforce supply crisis shows no sign of abating any time soon.  On the other hand, schools are also facing a historic funding crisis and may take whatever steps are necessary to avoid having to employ supply staff in the current climate.

Composition of the supply workforce

Teachers/support staff

Respondents to this survey comprised 97% teachers and 3% support staff.  Of this 3%, two per cent were in classroom-based roles and one per cent fulfilled other support staff roles such as peripatetic staff, librarians and exam invigilators.  

Other characteristics

Unfortunately, although responses were collected this year as in previous years on characteristics such as age, sex, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation etc., this data was inexplicably lost due to a technical failure.  This is highly regrettable as it prevents us from drawing inferences and making comparisons between this year’s survey and those of previous years.

Education sectors

The majority of respondents (63%) worked in primary schools, with only 26% working in a secondary capacity.  Five percent carried out supply work in special schools.   A small number (around one per cent) worked in a supply capacity in post 16 settings such as sixth form colleges and FE.  As can be imagined, there was some overlap in this regard with a number of respondents proving adaptable in their ability to work across sectors as required.

Experience in regular employment

While nearly 60% of supply educators had over 10 years’ experience in regular posts, 29% of respondents had less than 5 years, of which 18% had less than 2 years.  

Experience in supply work

This survey found that around one in five (20%) said they had worked in a supply capacity for more than ten years.  However, the majority (54%) had less than 5 years’ experience in supply work, and nearly one quarter (24%) had less than 2 years. 

Conclusions and implications for the NEU's work

Respondents were again asked to suggest what priorities the NEU should be following to improve conditions for its supply members. The results are as follows:

Campaign for national register of supply teachers and support staff, paying in line with national pay rates 67%
Campaign for higher pay from supply agencies63%
Campaign for re-establishment of LA supply pools48%
Campaign for national standards for supply agencies32%
Campaign for other Alternatives to Agencies (A2A)30%
Promotion of NEU supply charter to schools28%

Supply staff are an important element of the overall school workforce. Most continue to elect to work in this way and - despite the problems on pay and pensions – supply work continues to draw in teachers and support staff who no longer wish to work, or feel they cannot continue to work, in a regular post.  As we have said previously, this shows the need for action on workload and other pressures for the school workforce generally, both to retain those still working in regular employment and to attract supply educators back into regular employment. 

Welcome though signs of increased pay are in this year’s survey, these have to be seen in the context of the cost-of-living crisis and against the backdrop of agency pay having stagnated for many years previously. Agency supply staff continue to be paid less – often much less – than their permanent counterparts and continue to be denied access to the major public sector pension schemes, and agencies continue to be a drain on school expenditure at the same time as being the dominant source of work for supply staff.  The NEU would seek to replace the agency model with an alternative in which intermediaries such as agencies are reduced to a negligible level and ultimately dispensed with altogether.  An arrangement of local delivery of supply teacher services could be developed which would be based at employer level – local authority, MAT, diocese etc.   Indeed some employers have implemented such arrangements and others are considering them, often working with NEU through formal bargaining structures.  This in turn could lead to a publicly funded national supply register system, akin to the Northern Ireland model which has operated effectively and at much lower cost than the agency model for many years now. 

This survey has once again confirmed concerns about observance of the Agency Worker Regulations.  Currently there is no single body responsible for ensuring AWR compliance – neither the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI) or the Crown Commercial Services (CSC) Framework have any specific responsibilities or enforcement powers to ensure compliance with AWR.   The NEU believes this could and should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

This 2023 survey report, therefore, once again shows that the need for the NEU’s campaign for fair play for supply staff is as great as ever.

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