Supply educators, whether teachers or support staff, are educational professionals with a specialised skill set. They are a vital piece of the education jigsaw, providing a trained and capable reserve when schools need additional teachers and support staff. This document sets out the NEU’s position, provides a checklist for NEU supply members, and includes a charter for schools themselves to adopt.
The NEU charter
Able to quickly adapt to new situations, experienced supply teachers ensure a high level of teaching and learning is maintained in the classroom when permanent staff are absent. The NEU believes that all pupils should be taught by qualified staff and that supply teachers can provide this continuity of learning in the absence of the regular class teacher. Implementing this NEU charter will ensure the continued availability of high-calibre supply teachers who can provide qualified support to schools.
Experienced supply support staff are equally important in helping maintain education provision, whether they are working alongside teachers in the classroom or elsewhere in the school. Implementing this charter will support them and support schools as well.
There are two key principles underlying the proposals in this charter. The first is that all school staff, whether employed temporarily or permanently, are professionals who should be treated fairly and equally. The second is that school funding should be spent on students’ education, not paid to agencies which profit at the expense of both the worker and the school. The achievement of the key objectives set out below will be good for students and schools as well as for NEU members.
The NEU therefore urges the government and employers to:
- establish a new system for supply work in education which does not involve employment agencies or other commercial intermediaries;
- ensure that supply teachers are paid in accordance with the national pay arrangements for teachers in regular employment and at a rate appropriate to their level of experience and the demands of the role;
- ensure that supply support staff are also paid in accordance with the appropriate rates for regular employment in those roles;
- enable supply staff to have equal access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and Local Government Pension Scheme and other statutory and contractual entitlements as appropriate;
- ensure that schools employ suitably qualified teachers to cover teacher absences and vacancies, in line with NEU policy, while using support staff appropriately;
- ensure that all supply educators are offered access to CPD opportunities; and
- ensure that supply staff are treated with respect and recognition of their professionalism at all times.
This charter defines “supply” workers as those who are not permanently employed in a school but are engaged on a temporary short-term basis in the absence of a permanent member of staff, whether due to illness, vacancy or some other reason, and irrespective of the duration of the placement.
Whether hired directly by a school or LA or via an agency or intermediary, supply educators should seek to work to the same standard, and should be entitled to the same professional respect and consideration, as a permanent member of staff. The NEU encourages all schools and academies to adopt and apply this charter.
The NEU’s aspirations
Supply teachers employed through agencies need to be paid more. An alternative mode of employment is needed which offers better pay in line with the national pay arrangements, as well as access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme from which they are currently excluded.
Supply teachers should be entitled to be paid in accordance with the national pay arrangements and school pay policies in all cases. Their previous experience should be taken into account when determining pay.
Supply support staff should similarly be entitled to be paid by reference to the appropriate pay scales and pay rates for employees in regular employment and have the same pension rights as those employees.
Most supply educators are employed via agencies on a day-to-day basis without the security of a longer term contract. Where it is clear that a substitute member of staff is needed for a longer period of time (for example to cover a long-term absence or maternity cover) the school should consider employing that person on a fixed term contract (thereby giving them additional rights) rather than a day-to-day contract and, if using an agency worker, fully respect their rights under the Agency Worker Regulations. Whether employment is on a day-to-day or longer term basis, the NEU expects schools to honour agreements with regard to assignments and not seek to end them prematurely or make short-notice cancellations.
Appropriate use of supply teachers
Supply teachers are professionals who can ensure a high standard of teaching and learning continues in the absence of a class’s assigned teacher. The NEU recognises that there may be occasions when a teacher’s absence is covered by a member of the school support staff but there is no substitute for the added value a qualified supply teacher can bring to the school.
Support staff should only ever be used on a short-term basis until a qualified supply teacher is secured. Pupils deserve to be taught by qualified teachers, and schools should cover absences with appropriately qualified staff.
The NEU believes that an alternative to agencies in the form of a nationally or regionally administered supply register system should be established along the lines of the Northern Ireland system. Such a system would, in particular, allow supply teachers to be paid according to national pay arrangements and have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
In the meantime, the NEU asks schools to engage supply staff directly or through locally-run supply pools, rather than through agencies. Doing so helps to build a relationship between the school and that staff member, from which both ultimately benefit, and also removes the additional cost of payments to an agency. Schools which use agencies should refer to the DfE procurement framework with regard to agency fees; and check the level of pay rates and agency fees before deciding to use the agency route.
The NEU continues to press for the coverage of the TPS and LGPS to be extended to all supply teachers and support staff, including those working for agencies. In the meantime, the NEU expects supply agencies to meet their obligations to offer a workplace pension scheme to their workers and to make a meaningful employer contribution.
Respect and professionalism
NEU surveys show that some of our supply members feel that they are sometimes poorly treated by school leaders, teachers, support staff and pupils at the schools they visit. Supply educators are all education professionals who should be afforded the same respect and courtesy as permanent members of staff. They have often worked in a broader range of educational environments and they bring that knowledge to each assignment. Schools should ensure that supply staff are welcomed and given as much information as they need to fit into the routine of the school through an appropriate support pack for temporary staff (see below).
The school support pack checklist
Schools should ensure that supply staff are always greeted on arrival and given a welcome and support pack which should include:
- The basics – the relevant timetable(s), names of staff contacts, location of staff toilets and staffroom, and fire alarm procedures.
- Information on any classes to be taught, including class registers, brief notes on seating plans and ability levels, and specific information on any known special needs, behavioural, safeguarding or medical issues of which they will need to be aware.
- For teachers and other classroom based staff, information on lessons to be taught and details/location of lesson plans or other work to be set, teaching resources to be used and books, equipment etc for students.
- Registration procedures and arrangements for first aid, fire drills and security (including door codes).
- Information about staff duties, scheduled meetings/parents’ evenings/ training days etc and expectations re participation in these.
- Photocopier codes, door entry cards/ codes, ICT passwords and access to technical support.
- An information handbook allowing them to familiarise themselves with other relevant school policies and procedures (ideally including a one- or two-page summary of key points).
- Emergency contacts and telephone numbers, plus contact details for the head of department/year, head teacher and other SLT members.
- Contact details for the NEU and other union reps at the school.
- A map of the school.
A framework for schools
All schools employing supply staff, whether through agencies or directly, should:
- declare that they are an essential part of the workforce and deserve to be recognised as such;
- declare an intention to employ suitably qualified supply teachers for all absences where teaching and learning is expected to continue, and to employ them directly wherever possible;
- ensure that supply staff are paid at a rate appropriate to their experience and the work they are undertaking;
- ensure that they are clearly briefed on the duties they are expected to perform and provided with all necessary information and resources, including the necessary time to prepare lessons or mark pupils’ work if they are required to do this;
- ensure that they are afforded the same respect as all other members of staff, greeted on arrival and given access to the same facilities, resources, information and support as other staff;
- ensure that supply staff who have an ongoing relationship with the school are included in professional development and appraisal and, where applicable, considered for pay progression each year;
- honour any commitment made either verbally or in writing for the length of any supply engagement and, where an ongoing need arises to cover a vacancy or absence, discuss the options of employing them on a fixed-term contract basis;
- inform them of all vacancies and take decisions on employment uninfluenced by any ‘finder’s fee’ required by an agency for recruitment into a permanent role;
- provide honest references when requested by prospective employers; and
- recruit the most appropriate person for every role, regardless of gender, age, race, religion or sexuality.
A framework for agencies:
- ensure that all supply teachers and support staff are paid at rates which are consistent with the national pay arrangements and reflect their qualifications and experience, rather than at any lower rate;
- allow them a free choice to be paid on a PAYE basis by the agency and not require them to work via umbrella company or limited company arrangements;
- ensure that workers and hiring schools alike are aware of the provisions of the Agency Workers Regulations and ensure that workers receive the appropriate pay entitlements after the 12 week qualifying period;
- provide them with free professional development and training on matters such as safeguarding and on curricular/subject/ key stage issues;
- pay them at their normal pay rate when they attend professional development and training, whether provided by the agency or the hiring school;
- provide a confidential and impartial complaints procedure about poor or unequal treatment by hiring schools or agency staff; and
- reduce to a minimum the “finders’ fees” applying when schools wish to employ staff originally engaged via the agency on a permanent basis.
A framework for the government:
The Department for Education should:
- extend the coverage of the national school teachers’ pay arrangements and the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to all teachers working in state funded schools, including supply teachers working in local authority maintained schools and academies;
- investigate and support the development of a register-based system for day-to-day and long term supply provision, which allows direct employment without the involvement of commercial employment agencies, in place of its procurement framework for schools which offers little or nothing for supply staff themselves; and, pending the achievement of these first two objectives, publish guidance which advises all hiring schools and all agencies to pay supply staff on the same basis as staff in regular employment and to conform to the same employment standards in all other respects when employing supply staff.