The evidence provided this year by nearly 850 respondents enables us to form a reliable picture of the issues facing members in this sector, especially at this time still dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s survey, conducted from October to December 2021, received responses from supply teachers (92% of respondents) and from supply support staff (8%, of whom 3% worked in classroom-based roles and 5% in other support staff roles).

This report looks at:

  • how and why school staff take up a supply role, how they get their supply work and    whether they wish to return to regular employment in schools;
  • views on experiences with agencies, including on pay, pensions, and issues around the Agency Worker Regulations and umbrella and limited company arrangements;
  • views on experiences with schools when working in a supply role;
  • the effect of the pandemic on the availability of supply work; and
  • the composition of the supply workforce compared to the overall school workforce in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, experience, etc.
  1. Working as a supply educator
  2. Agency employment
  3. Experience with schools
  4. Employment prospects
  5. The supply workforce
  6. Conclusions and implications

Working as a supply educator – why and how

Reasons for deciding to work in a supply capacity

Previous NEU/NUT surveys suggested that most supply staff entered supply work in pursuit of an employment pattern fitting with their personal circumstances, with lower proportions moving from regular work for health or other reasons, undertaking some school work in their retirement, or having not yet been able to obtain a permanent post.

However, as in 2020, 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 29% 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” (18%) and “I cannot find a permanent post” (18%).

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. Others, however, said that losing out to younger and cheaper colleagues when seeking permanent posts left them with little option but to take up work in a supply role.

Actively seeking work

When asked if they were actively seeking work at present, more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said they were doing so, whilst 32% were not. Of those who were not, 7% said this was due to concerns about Covid19, whilst 25% reported that it was for other reasons.

Getting supply work

The proportion of supply staff who principally or mainly obtain their work through agencies continues to rise. In 2021, 84% of respondents now mainly obtain work via agencies, similar to last year’s 83% and 2019’s 82% but substantially up from 67% in 2014 and 50% in 2010. The proportion of supply staff mainly securing supply work through a local authority “supply pool” was 2%, unchanged from 2020 but down significantly from 8% in 2014 and 11% in 2010. Only 13% now secure most or all of their supply work directly with schools, the same as in 2020, but down from 25% in 2014 and 39% in 2010.

Desire for permanent employment

A much higher proportion of respondents (42%) 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 (18%). 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.

Agency employment

Agencies – which are the biggest?

Respondents to this year's survey again referred to working via almost 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 mnore than one.)

Teaching Personnel 9%
Vision for Education  6%
Protocol Education 4%
New Directions  4%
Hays Education     3%
Tradewind  2%
Randstad Education 2%
Monarch 2%
Supply Desk 2%
Reed  2%
Simply Education 2%

The eleven 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, 7% of respondents said they were paid £150 or more per day.  This was the same figure as in 2020, so this level of pay remains rare. Thirty-five per cent said they were paid £125-£149, broadly in line with last year’s 36%. As in 2020, more were paid at the lower level of £100-£124 (41%), while those paid less than £100 increased to 10% from 5% in 2020. Finally, 7% 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 £6,000 less than a newly qualified teacher in a full-time post. Even a daily rate of £150 will pay a highly experienced supply teacher around 20% 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 Greater London were better paid, with 26% paid £150 or more compared to 7% nationally. The worst paid area was the South West, with 89% of respondents being paid less than £125 per day. 

The vast majority (73%) 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 or local authority.

As last year, we asked about pay rates for longer term assignments. A quarter of respondents said they do not accept such assignments. Among the majority who do, 49% said they receive a higher initial pay rate in such cases while 51% said they do not. 

Whereas only 7% of all respondents reported pay rates of £150 or more per day for short term supply work, 39% of the group receiving higher pay for long term supply were paid at this level, with 3% citing rates of £200 or more and 9% citing rates of £175-£199.  Thirty-two per cent said they would be paid £125-149, but 20% said they would be paid less than £125 per day even for a longer assignment.  These figures are broadly in line with those from last year’s survey.

Agencies and pensions

While supply agencies are unable to offer membership of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to teaching staff, they are subject by statutory “workplace pension” requirements.  This year, 69% of agency school staff (a slight increase from 64% 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 89%, but this still leaves 11% who said that they have not been offered a workplace pension, despite the law requiring all agencies to do so.

Agency Worker Regulations (AWR)

At the time the survey took place, 17% of respondents were working in an agency engagement which had lasted more than 12 weeks at the same school or college. Excluding ‘don’t knows’, only 6% of these respondents said that they had automatically been given a pay increase to “parity pay” in line with the Agency Worker Regulations 2010.

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 12% had been automatically awarded parity pay on every occasion and 13% on some occasions, whilst 39% stated that they had never been given such a pay increase in line with the AWR.

Umbrella companies and Limited companies

27% said that they were paid through an umbrella company or offshore payroll company, rather than being employed by the agency. This was the same figure as in 2020 but follows a steady decline in such arrangements from a high of 47% in 2015 to 42% in 2016 and 25% in 2019. 

This year, 18% said that that their agency insisted on staff working through umbrella companies or limited company arrangements, compared with 17% in 2020, 23% in 2018 and 62% in 2017.  In 2020 respondents reported that 60% of agencies allowed respondents to be paid via PAYE as an alternative to umbrella arrangements, down from 63% in 2020.

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 emerged regarding the issue of tax compliance.  72% 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. Meanwhile, 29% of respondents 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 19% 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. 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 over a quarter (26%) expressed the view that umbrella company and limited company providers were not entirely clear about their fees and services.

Cover supervisor work

More than a fifth (22%) 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 24% in 2020. 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: 40% of secondary respondents reported this happening to them, compared to only 13% 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. 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, and “finders’ fees” placing an obstacle to being offered a job at a school after a successful placement.

Experience with schools

We again asked supply educators about their experience with schools and the support they receive on and after arrival.

The majority of supply staff told us that schools provided adequate help and support, with 70% saying this was “usually” or “always” the case.  Almost a third (30%), however, thought that schools “rarely” or “never” provided adequate help and support to them. 

Those who answered “rarely” or “never” to the above question were then asked what were the principal issues they encountered regarding lack of support.  The following table sets out their responses.

Access to individual pupil information

70%

Access to teaching / learning resources

61%

Lack of named contact / support person

49%

Access to planned work for students

46%

Access to class registers

44%

Access to premises / classrooms

39%

Access to PPA time (longer assignments)

37%

Access to school facilities (toilets/staffroom etc.)

17%

Reasonable adjustments in the workplace (where applicable)

14%

School safety in the pandemic

Most respondents (60%) said they had felt safe in all or most schools, while 30% had felt safe in only some schools and 10% had not felt safe in most or all schools. This is perhaps a slightly better picture overall than last year, when the figures were 62%, 20% and 17% respectively.

The picture with regard to safety briefings for supply staff is less encouraging. Only 46% said they had been fully briefed in all or most schools about day to day routines and safety protocols, down from 55% last year, while 39% had been briefed in only some schools and 15% had not been briefed in all or most schools (compared to 30% and 15% last year).

Free comments on safety matters were varied, with some schools praised for their efforts to do all they could in difficult circumstances but others found wanting, especially on areas such as risk assessments and practices on face coverings and social distancing. Lack of communication and information about protocols and routines was a commonly cited concern.

Regarding agencies’ responses to the pandemic, 41% said that their agency had provided them with information on school safety procedures in advance of engagements in all or most cases.  Twenty-eight per cent said this had happened for only some assignments, whilst 31% said they had received no such information from their agency in advance of most engagements.

Current employment prospects

Availability of supply work

Previous surveys have suggested that supply work is becoming increasingly scarce.  However, recent circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have created opportunities for supply staff as many regular teachers and support staff are absent either through sickness, isolation or other related reasons such as working from home.  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 been considerably greater this year. Almost half (47%) of respondents said that they could get work almost every day, up from 23% in 2020. With around one third saying they were able to get work about half the time, the same as in 2020, the number only able to find work occasionally fell substantially this year. Only 12% said they sometimes could not get work for a week at a time, down from 23%, while only 6% said they were being offered no work for weeks at a time, down from 17%.

Access to direct employment

There is also a reported increase in the availability of work via direct employment, although not to the same extent. 22% of those working mainly in this way said they could get work almost every day, while 42% could get work half of the time, compared to just 16% and 28% last year.  Again, fewer reported patchier work prospects this year, with 17% unable to get work for a week at a time and 11% for several weeks at a time, compared with 26% and 17% last year.

Trends in access to work

When asked to compare their situation to two years ago, 38% said it was easier to get work while 22% said that it was harder. Improved availability of work in 2021 has reversed the trends of previous years and it is to be hoped that this situation is maintained after the pandemic ends.

Composition of the supply workforce

Teachers/support staff

Respondents to this survey comprised 92% teachers and 8% support staff.  Of this 8%, three per cent were in classroom-based roles and five per cent fulfilled other support staff roles such as peripatetic staff, librarians and exam invigilators.

Age

As in previous years, the survey suggests that the supply workforce is considerably older than the school workforce generally. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of teacher respondents were over 45, compared to only 20% of the total teaching workforce. On the other hand, only 9% of respondents were aged 35 or under, compared to 42% of the total teaching workforce.

Sex

The response’s composition - 80% female - suggests that the supply workforce remains similar in this respect to the wider school workforce. The survey again suggested little difference in women’s experiences in relation to the matters surveyed, other than that women were more likely to cite family/home life circumstances as their reason for working as a supply educator.

Ethnicity

The survey found that 87% of respondents were White / White British compared to 87.5% of the whole workforce.  Meanwhile, 5% were Black / Black British, compared with 2% of the whole workforce; and 5% were Asian / Asian British compared to 3.7% in the whole workforce. 

BME supply staff were more likely to be based in London and the West Midlands and more likely to work for agencies.  They were also paid slightly more on average, although the proportion based in Greater London may help explain the pay differential.

Sexual orientation

Taken together, 5% of respondents identified as bisexual, lesbian, gay or other. 

Disability

Five per cent of respondents defined themselves as disabled. 

Experience in regular employment

While more than 60% of supply educators had over 10 years’ experience in regular posts, 28% of respondents had less than 5 years, of which 17% had less than 2 years. 

Experience in supply work

The survey reaffirmed that for many respondents, supply work has become long term employment – around one in six said they had worked in a supply capacity for more than ten years.  However, three fifths said they had less than 5 years’ experience in supply work, and a quarter 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

79%
Campaign for higher pay from supply agencies  68%
Campaign for Alternatives to Agencies (A2A)  50%
Campaign for national standards for supply agencies  38%
Promotion of NEU supply charter to schools 29%
Publication of more NEU guidance for supply teachers  26%

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.

Many staff, however, continue to take up supply work because they cannot find a permanent job and many more discover it is more difficult than they thought it would be to return to a regular post when they wish to do so.  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.  This survey has confirmed concerns about observance of the Agency Worker Regulations and tax compliance issues relating to umbrella companies.

This 2021 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.