This report looks at the survey results, and in particular:

  • the impact of school closures on different categories of supply worker; 
  • the impact of school closures on ‘contingent workers’;
  • the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Long-term full-time or part-time temporary engagements

Of those working long-term engagements immediately before schools closed due to the coronavirus crisis, 24% were directly employed by a school, multi-academy trust (MAT) or local authority (LA) and 76% via an agency/umbrella company. Despite the Department for Education (DfE) advice envisaging that such employment should continue, two-thirds (67%) were no longer working in this capacity by the time this survey was undertaken. Of those no longer working, 61% said their work had stopped because of school closure due to COVID-19, 14% had stopped because the expected duration of the engagement had ended, and 25% because of other reasons such as self-isolation or shielding. More detailed responses showed a very patchy response from schools in continuing to employ supply teachers or  being willing to honour engagements to their completion (see later in this report).

Regular daily supply work at one school

Amongst this group, 26% were directly engaged and 74% were engaged via an agency or umbrella company. Just over a quarter (27%) were still working in this way at the time of the survey and 73% had stopped working. Of those who had stopped, 69% said their work had stopped because of school closure due to COVID-19; 12% had stopped because the expected duration of the engagement had ended; and 19% had ceased working for other reasons, eg they were shielding/self-isolating or furloughed.

Intermittent non-regular daily supply work at one or more schools

In this category, 12% were directly engaged and 78% were employed via agencies/umbrella companies. In total 3% found work through an LA pool while 7% were employed via a mixture of the above. More than a third (36%) of this group were furloughed by their agency/umbrella company, while half had found their work and income dry up due to school closures. Another 14% stopped work for other reasons, eg agreement came to an end, being in a vulnerable/shielding group etc.

Contingent workers

The results of our survey illustrate our concerns about the take-up and operation of the measures for ‘contingent workers’. Misunderstanding about the Cabinet and DfE advice is widespread. Over a quarter of respondents in regular daily work had been directly engaged and employed by the school, academy trust or LA. Of the respondents in regular daily work whose engagement was terminated, 69% reported that the reason was the closure of school due to COVID-19. One academy trust, our survey shows, terminated engagements because they decided not to continue to engage agency staff. We are aware of other academy trusts, agencies, schools and some local authorities who cancelled assignments, terminated employment or reduced supply and agency workers’ hours/pay.

As noted previously, of those respondents on long-term assignments, 67% were no longer working in that capacity. Of those whose assignments had ended, only 14% of terminations were because the expected duration of the engagement had ended, while 61% were terminated because of COVID-19. Two respondents had their engagements terminated on grounds of pregnancy or maternity. These are clear examples that the Cabinet Office and DfE guidance has not been followed.

We therefore reiterate our call for further action to ensure that advice is followed regarding the retention of ‘contingent workers’. We have welcomed the DfE advice that where schools have live assignments with contingent workers, and where the school is the workers’ employer, schools should continue to pay these workers from their existing school budgets rather than furloughing them. We have applauded the advice that contracts that have been terminated early should be reinstated on previously agreed terms. Similarly, we have welcomed the recommendation that where schools have agency workers on live assignments who can continue to work, those assignments should continue, with the school continuing to make previously agreed payments for the supply of workers and those workers continuing to be paid, in line with the approach set out in the Cabinet Office guidance. We agree that as a first step, agencies who receive money for workers in line with this guidance should not furlough these workers and should provide schools with proof that workers are continuing to be paid as normal.

Our concern remains that very few leaders in the education sector are familiar with the term ‘contingent worker’ and that many would not therefore recognise that the guidance applied to staff who had been working in their schools on non-permanent contracts, such as supply workers or music teachers. Our further concern is that the survey shows that many such staff have had their contracts terminated inappropriately in breach of the contingent worker guidance, even where it is known to the school. Many of these individuals have not subsequently secured access to the discretionary furlough arrangements.

We call on the Secretary of State to press for these workers to be reinstated from the date that their contract was terminated and to continue to be paid as envisaged by the Cabinet Office guidance, avoiding the cost of their support falling on the state via the furlough arrangements or benefits system.

We have offered to assist in disseminating to our leadership members and to employers and agencies clearer guidance from the DfE on the meaning of contingent worker, who is included in the definition and the type and length and status of the contracts that are intended to be covered by the term. We remain keen to discuss other steps which might be taken to ensure that employers and agencies act in accordance with the Cabinet Office guidance.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)

More than half (57%) of respondents were furloughed by at least one agency or umbrella company.

Even among those respondents who have been furloughed, many were concerned that the scheme has not been properly applied. Of those who had concerns, 19%  stated their furlough pay rate calculated, excluded holiday pay, 14% stated that the pay rate was limited to the National Minimum Wage, 12% said pay was calculated over an incorrect period and 76% had other concerns, including that they were still waiting to hear from their agency/umbrella company and had not received any payments.

Nearly a fifth of those surveyed (19%) had been denied furlough by their agency or umbrella company. The most common reasons for denial were that the supply worker:

  • had not worked for the agency recently enough,
  • had not been on the payroll at the relevant date,
  • had not earned enough recently.

Some reasons illustrate lack of understanding of the scheme on the part of the agency or umbrella company. Workers have been refused because the employer believed that:

  • zero-hours contract holders were excluded from the scheme,
  • the scheme did not apply to agency staff,
  • the agency worker was earning too much pay to qualify,
  • the scheme did not apply to umbrella companies (a common misunderstanding),
  • funding was not available.

Many respondents had waited weeks to hear anything from their agency or umbrella company after contacting them about the CJRS, and even then responses were often unhelpful. Nearly a third (30%) reported that they had had to claim state benefits that they had not previously claimed, 13% had taken on other (non-education) work, 5% had sought help from hardship funds for education workers and 4% had used food banks. Many had relied on savings or family members for support.

The most precarious workers in the education sector have been let down in this process. Supply and agency workers offer commitment, professionalism and flexibility but their contribution has not been recognised.