This is a blog about our unsung heroes; supply teachers.
I once was a supply teacher. It happened by accident and was not something I had planned to, yet during the one-year I worked in 10 different schools, I learnt a huge amount about teaching. Prior to this, I had travelled to Nigeria in 1997, to live and work for the VSO in my NQT year in Kano. The placement at St. Thomas’ School didn’t work out. I missed the job-market and rental-bandwagon back home, returned with my tail between my legs and found myself sleeping on floors in North and South London, in-between schools on a supply basis. It was a brutal start to my teaching career. There were highs and lows and something I look back on with intrepidation.
If ever there was a need to highlight a recruitment crisis, and something more deep-rooted about the problems with teaching personnel, this blog may be it. There are more than likely, 1,000s of supply teachers in our system, choosing not to work full-time in schools for whatever reason. They too, deserve some recognition in the current climate. This blog is just one teacher’s story.
Read on …
A Letter from a Supply Teacher:
Yesterday, I received this email from a primary supply teacher. The email said;
“I am a supply teacher and feel that this role is often overlooked in discussions about education. I am employed by private, not public sector agencies which is extremely common with supply teaching. I work on a zero-hour contract (with more than one agency). I haven’t had a pay rise in over 5 years, I have to pay for any CPD opportunities, as well as losing pay for the days that I attend. I have to pay for my own DBS checks. I constantly receive notification that I have been assessed, but found not to be eligible to be included in the pension scheme. My work is extremely insecure, and I have no safety net if anything goes wrong.
I would like to ensure that:
– supply teaching is acknowledged within education
– the role of a supply teacher is understood
– the working conditions of supply teachers are understood
On behalf of myself and other supply teachers, I would like to get recognition for this role and greater equality in training, pay and pension rights.”
This teacher emailed Nicky Morgan MP and received a respone (not shown here). Following this, I offered the anonymous supply teacher an opportunity to express their views on my blog. This is what they said;
The Long Summer:
It’s half term. Only a few weeks now until schools break up for the long summer holidays. Some teachers will get a much longer holiday than everyone else. And for them this is a worry.
As a supply teacher, my work will soon dry up. For the last few days of term, there will be no courses running. If a teacher is ill, there is no need to replace the teacher. They can all go to the hall to watch a video or play board games while the display boards are taken down, and work is organised to take home.
September will be also be a quiet month for supply teachers too. It may pick up towards the October half term. All in all, that is around-about 12 weeks without pay! There will be also be a whole new cohort of supply teachers, NQTs who haven’t secured a post for September; teachers who have decided to leave the classroom, and recently retired teachers. They will in all likelihood, get the lion’s share of any available work.
I am registered with two private agencies which give me more work opportunities. It also means that I can work with schools over two bordering local authorities. It does however, resemble waiting at a bus stop. You wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once. This happens frequently when a course is running, because obviously, courses are organised for a whole group of teachers. This means that on a particular day, teachers from several schools are out of the classroom and need to be replaced by supply teachers. I am inundated with offers of work for that day, and then it gets tricky what decision to make …
Many courses are for half days. I get a call from my agency offering me a half day advance booking. I have several options:
- I say yes. It is work, and I can’t afford to turn work down. I do the work, get paid.
- I say yes. My other agency rings and offers me a full day’s work instead (or it might be two or more days).
- I say no, I’ll wait for something better. Nothing better comes along and I have a day without pay.
- I say yes, turn down other work, then get a call the night before, or on the morning. The course has been cancelled, or the school has double booked so they don’t need anyone now. I am now left without pay.
What would you do?
(Supply) Teachers’ Pay and Conditions:
A few weeks ago I was pleased when a school had asked for me to teach for a full week. The teacher got in touch with me to discuss the planning. It then became a little awkward. My agency had booked me in for a full week. But a full week for a teacher involves PPA time, which is covered by someone else. And for an NQT, there is additional time out of the classroom. In this instance, the school kindly rearranged the time and I taught for the full five days. The following week however, I was asked to continue the assignment, but this time it was only for four days.
The school year is 195 days. Pay is between £100 and £120 per day, so if you ‘do the maths’; the highest achievable pay for a year would be £23,400. For a supply teacher, it is fair to say that this figure reduces significantly. Last year, my total earnings were £13,118.39 before tax. This includes holiday pay. Holiday pay is calculated based on 5.6 weeks holiday per year. I didn’t take any time off because of illness (I wouldn’t have got paid). I get regular e-mails saying that I have been assessed but don’t match the criteria for inclusion in the pension scheme.
Ironically, one of the reasons I am asked to cover any staff absence, is that they are on a course or developing their CPD. They get paid time-off to do this. I however, have to pay for any courses I attend (rarely local to where I live), as well as taking unpaid time off. Even twilight courses are timed so that they can’t coincide with work.
I took this from the application form of the local authority supply pool application form:
“We will ask (your referees) about class control, behaviour management, ability to establish a rapport with children and to work with other school staff. We will seek your referees’ views on your curriculum knowledge, honesty and reliability, commitment to helping children achieve and ability to keep accurate and up-to-date records. Referees are sent a tick-box form for these elements with possible assessments of “poor”; “average”; “good”; “excellent” and “don’t know/not applicable”.
At present, owing to the number of teachers applying we will only take on supply teachers where both referees assess all of these abilities as “good” or “excellent.”
I will leave you now at the school gates.
What happens when I arrive at school is a subject for another day. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. But the financial insecurity is something that is always at the back of my mind.
What do you think? How can we ensure our supply teachers are recognised as an imperative backup to teachers in the classroom? How can we protect this workforce as well as show they are valued? Leave your comments below.
If you are keen to support supply teachers, it’s the 3rd National Supply Teacher Week: 15th – 19th June 2015.
- To highlight the importance of supply teachers in a child’s education
- To increase respect for supply teachers
- To show appreciation for those working as supply teachers
- To help combat the recurring feeling amongst supply teachers of isolation
- To support supply teachers with their professional development
- To provide information for those considering supply teaching as a career move
- To increase awareness of the skills needed to be a supply teacher
- To help schools work with supply teachers more effectively.
The aims are here.