Why Supply Agencies Are The New ‘Del Boys’

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A Teacher

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Are supply agencies just wheelers and dealers? 

Imagine you are trying to lease a new car. Having previously signed up to an email alert and completed a comprehensive search criteria you receive a call from an excited salesman saying that he has found you the perfect match.

You arrive at the garage and encounter a slight hitch. The salesman informs you that the car isn’t yet in his possession. In fact, he hasn’t ever seen the car but the last owner assures him it is a solid runner with no obvious issues.

The good news is that he can let you try it for a day but it will cost you around £200. You leave, not really fancying the idea, but before you go he informs you that he will be in touch, very soon with details of an even better car.

Deals on wheels

So begins a series of daily calls and messages, some light-hearted, others a little pushy and aggressive to the point where you ask him to stop contacting you, which he does, only to have his colleague take over and offer you increasing numbers of cars that slowly match an ever decreasing amount of original selection criteria.

In the end you decide that you might as well go and buy a car instead of leasing it, a service which the salesman also offers. The hitch is that to find you the right car he will have to invest quite a lot of time and money which will need to be added on to the sale price of the car, somewhere in the region of 15% he says. Either that or you can lease it at a ridiculously high daily rate and then after 12 months the car is yours for free, apart from paying the original price for it that is.

This, ladies, gentleman, fellow teachers, school leaders, HR officers and anyone else remotely interested is how modern day supply agencies work.

To quote a well-known comparison website ‘simples’.

Supply and be damned

So, where has it all gone wrong and how is it affecting the marketplace? Well, for starters, supply agencies used to focus on just that – daily supply – to assist with short term, one-off needs. They were actually quite good, as they usually knew the teachers on their books personally, and had even, in some cases, met with them, talked to them and had seen them teach.

However, then people stopped wanting to become teachers and started leaving the profession due to funding cuts and workload issues. Supply became less fluid and this is when the penny dropped with supply agencies… why not hawk out our supply staff and try and place them permanently in schools?!

We can even attend recruitment fairs and instead of new teachers joining schools directly we can offer them regular work, without the stress, all for a small cut of the daily rate we charge. Genius!

Except it isn’t.

This approach is systematically aiding the destruction of the teaching profession, hugely inflating the cost of recruitment, whilst encouraging good teachers to move around and fail to develop their craft through good quality CPD and support. I have recruited hundreds of teachers over the years and have always interviewed and recruited on attitude, gut feeling and a sense of fit. I have also employed many, many supply teachers, the majority of which, I’m afraid to say, have offered little more than expensive babysitting.

A good cover supervisor is worth their weight in gold and serve as the mainstay of dealing with staff shortages. I don’t have any issue with paying for supply staff but I need assurance they will come in and teach, not just occupy the chair at the front of the classroom.

In short supply

That said, with demand currently outstripping supply, the temptation to approach supply agencies to find a permanent member of staff is too great.

Costs of advertising nationally are so horrific that the risk of having to nurse a so called experienced teacher through their time is often the cheaper and far less painful option. And that is, unfortunately, the crux of the matter. By delving into permanent placement solutions, supply agencies are demeaning and damaging teaching.

My plea to all supply and so called specialist recruitment agencies is ‘leave our kids alone’. Okay, I’ll admit, that was a little tenuous in terms of cultural quotes, but you get my drift.

  • Stop over egging the pudding when describing a candidate and then holding schools to ransom with overly complicated T&Cs, outrageously high daily costs and crippling permanent placement fees. You are dealing in human beings not machines.
  • Does receiving a CV and pimping it out to some schools really justify charging 15-25% of the annual salary? I’ll answer this for you succinctly. No. At the very least meet the candidates, at best go and see them teach so you can actually vouch for them.
  • Oh, also kindly stop telling me that science teachers can teach GCSE Maths and that someone with a history degree will make a fantastic English teacher. In most cases they can’t.

You are undermining the best profession in the world by taking advantage of an economic problem, all to fund your overstaffed and inefficiently run companies.

Right, I’m off on a weeks holiday to France so that I can come back and pick up some MFL supply work. “No worries” my agent says (proper rockstar me!), “there are plenty of schools out there who will take you as they can’t afford to be fussy.”

À bientôt.


Apologies to the many really good supply teachers out there. This not a complaint about you I promise, as without you schools wouldn’t currently be able operate. Therein lies the issue I guess.

8 thoughts on “Why Supply Agencies Are The New ‘Del Boys’

  1. I’ve stopped doing secondary supply as most schools seem to want me to just occupy the seat at the front and not follow schools discipline procedure etc. I now go into primary where I actually get to teach. I don’t want to be a glorified babysitter quietly putting up with abuse and bad behaviour just to make schools life easier.

  2. It broke my heart but sadly I had to leave a permanent primary teaching post to become a short term supply teacher. As a mother of two little ones the endless paperwork every evening and weekend and no family on either sides to support us meant I struggled. After now working for two years in short term supply I absolutely love it. I get to continue the profession I love without the boring bits. I come in teach someone elses class and the go home. I have impeccably high standards and strive for excellence in every lesson. This is sadly sometimes not achieveable due to not being given any planning until 10 minutes before the kids walk in or by having a specifically challenging TA who insists I do things that are utterly dull and boring hense why we are then burdened by terrible behaviour for the rest of the day. Most TAs are though true gems and worth their weight in gold.

    The schools I go to Im seeing more stress and discontent from the teaching staff. Yes my salary is reduced but I feel my wellbeing has improved and now enjoy a good work life balance.

    1. Ever considered part time? God knows we can ill afford to lose good people simply through life circumstances. As chair of govs at a local primary we went hell for leather at the work life balance issue which clearly affected women (the vast majority of primary teachers) and eventually, by being supportive, had 7 job shares out of 12 teaching jobs. It worked brilliantly and resulted in outstanding work life balance for those teachers and terrific benefits for our children. Two committed and passionate professionals for the price of one! No burn out, amazing continuity and very happy children. Not rocket science.

  3. I worked on supply after leaving a head of department’s job when I suddenly became solely responsible for my baby. There was no way I could juggle both HOD and home as a single and new parent. I can honestly say that I earned less a day in 2017 than I did 17 years ago. Increasingly, schools have often become just as exploitative as the agencies. For a third less wage (probably half when you factor in sickness and no pension) I was always required to do just as much as contracted staff, if not more, as I was seen as someone who had no real rights. And yet I was also someone who regularly saved the day and exam results for those who’d caved into the huge pressures of today’s classroom (as I had previously). Sadly, I was also too expensive on ups 3 and / or would need a huge finder’s fee to be allowed to be released from the agency contract. Schools! Agency workers are mainly exploitative Machievals. But what hurt the most? My fellow professionals who became just the same to protect their own jobs in this horrible fear of academisation. So when you look at some poor lost supply soul in the staff room, long gone are the days where they make anything like your wage. They have even fewer to fight their corner than you. They are often disparaged, patronized, exploited. All by a so called caring profession. It’s a horrible way to live!

  4. I play golf with a guy who sold a wee company for £millions to provide supply teachers ‘cos he saw a gap in the ‘market’. Education is a HUGE market and we need to stop spending in it – there are no silver bullets and teachers deserve respect and trust. We could easily build our own ‘supply’ chain with teachers who felt valued. Come on!

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