Experiences with agency employment
Agencies – which are the biggest?
Respondents to this year's survey again referred to working via around 200 different supply agencies. The following were the eleven largest agencies in terms of staff employed or placed. (Respondents were able to name more than one agency if they worked via more than one.)
- Teaching Personnel 8%
- Vision for Education 5%
- New Directions 4%
- Hays Education 4%
- Protocol Education 3%
- Tradewind 3%
- Randstad Education 2%
- Monarch 1%
- Supply Desk 1%
- Reed 1%
- Simply Education 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 were 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, 19% of respondents said they were paid £150 or more per day. This is almost three times the figure as in 2020 and 2021, so this level of pay has definitely become less unusual than it once was. Forty-two per cent said they were paid £125-
£149, slightly up on 2021’s 36%. Reversing the trend of previous years, fewer respondents (30%) were paid at the lower level of £100-£124 (2021:41%) while those paid less than £100 decreased from 10% (2021) to 3% this year. Finally, 5% 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 £8,500 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 £10,000 less than a teacher with 5 years’ experience paid at the Main Pay Range maximum.
Regional pay variations continue to be substantial. Agency teachers in London were the best paid, with nearly two-fifths (39%) paid a daily rate of £150 or more (compared to 19% nationally). A little further behind in this respect were teachers in the West Midlands (27%), Yorkshire/Humber (26%) Wales (25%) and the East Midlands (23%). Meanwhile the survey found some areas still struggling with very low pay rates – 13% of respondents in the Northern region and 11% of those
in the North West reported pay rates of less than £100 per day; whilst more than three-quarters (76%) of those in the South West were paid £125 or less.
The majority (61%) 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 4% stated that it was higher. Ten per cent said it was about the same, whilst a quarter said that they did not know or the question was not applicable to them because they had never worked for a school/academy or local authority.
As last year, we asked about pay rates for longer term assignments. More than a quarter of respondents (27%) said they do not accept such assignments. Among the remainder who do, 66% said they receive a higher initial pay rate in such cases while 34% said they do not.
Whereas 19% of all respondents reported pay rates of £150 or more per day for short term supply work, 52% of the group receiving higher pay for long term supply were paid at this level, with 8% citing rates of £200 or more and 18% citing rates of £175-£199. Twenty-eight per cent said they would be paid £125-149, but 10% said they would be paid less than £125 per day even for a longer assignment.
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, 75% of agency school staff (a modest increase from 69% in 2020) 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 knows’ are excluded, this figure rises to 90%, but this still leaves 10% 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 37 per cent of respondents acknowledged that they did receive a KID from their agency prior to commencing an assignment, nearly a fifth (19%) did not. Forty-four per cent, meanwhile, weren’t sure whether they had received one or not.
When asked about their holiday pay, 39% responded that their holiday pay was calculated at
12.07 per cent of their working hours – the accepted formula. Two per cent listed a wide variety of alternative methods of calculating holiday pay adopted by their agency or agencies, including a range of percentages from 10 per cent to 25 per cent; whilst some indicated that their agency had failed to tell them how their holiday pay was calculated despite repeated requests; others had reported not receiving any holiday pay at all. Fifty-nine per cent remained unsure of how their holiday pay was calculated.
Forty-four 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. Nineteen per cent said their holiday pay was deducted from their pay, included in their pay slip and they were paid during the holidays. Seven per cent said their holiday pay was paid to them via another arrangement. Thirty per cent were not clear how their holiday pay was paid to them.
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, 39% of respondents were working in an agency engagement which had lasted more than 12 weeks at the same school or college. Taking ‘don’t knows’ out of the equation, only 29% 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 71% 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 knows’, only 18% had been automatically awarded parity pay on every occasion and 16% on some occasions, whilst 66% 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-two per cent said that they were paid through an umbrella company or offshore payroll company, rather than being employed by the agency. This was lower than the corresponding figure in 2021 (27%) and follows a steady decline in such arrangements from a high of 47% in 2015.
This year, 12% said that that their agency insisted on staff working through umbrella companies or limited company arrangements, compared with 18% in 2021, 23% in 2018 and 62% in 2017. In 2022/23 respondents reported that 59% of agencies allowed respondents to be paid via PAYE as an alternative to umbrella arrangements, a similar figure to the 2021 survey’s 60%.
All of the above may be due, at least in part, to members taking note of NEU advice that umbrella company arrangements are not a requirement when working via agencies.
This year's survey also asked again about "limited company" arrangements. Some 10% of respondents said they work through limited company arrangements, the same proportion as in 2020. The NEU continues to have significant reservations about the legal and tax position of supply educators in relation to “self-employment” arrangements.
Umbrella companies and tax compliance
Some significant concerns continue to register regarding the issue of tax compliance. 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. This is unlikely to be true as, in most cases, the basic rate of income tax is 20% and NI contributions are also due on earnings. In 2021 the corresponding figure was 72% so a fall here is welcome. Meanwhile, 25% of respondents – broadly in line with 2021 - reported that their umbrella company had arranged payment so that only a fraction of their salary was paid through payroll and subject to PAYE. A further 30% of respondents (2021:19%) 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. Finally, 3% of respondents (similar to 2021) had been paid via a loan, credit or investment payment, with the umbrella company claiming that this was not subject to income tax/National Insurance contributions (this is tax avoidance).
These findings demonstrate the need for those working under umbrella company arrangements to be aware of tax compliance requirements as, ultimately, it will be the individual taxpayer who may be subject to HMRC enforcement action.
Finally, just under a quarter (22%) expressed the view that umbrella company 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 on 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 40% of respondents for their ‘efficient support’ in obtaining work. 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.
As one respondent said: