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The coronavirus crisis has exposed our broken teaching labour market

The profit-making market for the employment of supply teachers isn’t working, says Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary | Credit: NASUWT

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary | NASUWT

4 min read Partner content

Exploitation and profiteering should have no place in a national education service. Our children and our teachers deserve better.

Supply teachers are the backbone of the education system. 88% of supply teachers obtain work via employment agencies and umbrella companies. Last year alone these private companies raked in some £727million of taxpayers’ money from schools. Yet our evidence indicates that as little as 31% of that income was paid to supply teachers. In our education system this looks like profiteering on an industrial scale.

In the depths of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, the NASUWT has been asking the Government to do more to tackle the market in supply which operates to the detriment of teachers, schools and the taxpayer. The Government has clearly felt this wasn’t a priority. Well it is now.

The trade union movement, led by the TUC, has lobbied to secure a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to help protect jobs and incomes for workers affected by the Coronavirus pandemic and the impact of the Government’s lockdown measures. This is a vital development. And, although there are important questions to be asked about how the scheme is operating and its use by some very rich businesses, it nevertheless offers vital protection for many.

Regrettably, many employers have chosen to use the CJRS to stop paying their workers, relying on only the 80% wage subsidy and failing to top up the salaries of their staff. The same has been true for some supply teachers employed by agencies. But for many others there are yet more concerns about how badly some employment agencies are treating their workforce.

Some teachers have simply been told there is no work for them or have had their employment assignments terminated with little or no notice. Others have been furloughed under the Government’s CJRS but with 80% of basic salary calculated using the National Minimum Wage, further exposing the disparity between the pay of supply teachers and others.

And we are also concerned that these disparities in treatment are impacting disproportionately on women, Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups and disabled teachers who are more likely to be employed on precarious supply teaching contracts. The Government’s failure to address the failures of the market in teacher supply is therefore having profoundly adverse equalities impacts too.

The NASUWT has written to the Government demanding urgent action to protect supply teachers. We have called for the Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Education to urgently investigate the practices being employed by some supply agencies and umbrella companies at this time of crisis which are seemingly designed to ensure supply teachers get no or as little pay as possible.

As a result of our lobbying the Government has produced guidance clarifying that schools which had booked supply teachers on long-term assignments should honour the payments due for those contracts. While this is welcome we need the government to take action for all supply teachers to ensure every one of them receives the financial support they are entitled to during this crisis.

But many supply teachers are already desperate. With no income these critical public service workers have been forced to claim Universal Credit and we know of many who rely on food banks. At a time when the country is clapping for carers this is a national disgrace. As teachers are on the front line of caring for vulnerable children and children of other key workers, it’s time that Government fixes the broken labour market that is letting teachers down and failing our children.

Austerity, privatisation and deregulation across the education landscape have led to increasingly precarious employment options for many teachers and we have seen the acute and damaging impacts of these policies during the current crisis. Whatever emerges from the Coronavirus crisis, it must be a new normal that is based on bringing to an end these brutal and divisive employment practices and a genuine commitment to establish a national framework of rights for all teachers, ensuring that all teachers, including supply teachers, are properly valued and recognised for the vitally important work they do on behalf of children, young people and the public.

The profit-making market for the employment of supply teachers isn’t working. It doesn’t serve the interests of taxpayers, pupils or teachers and is at odds with public interests at this time of national crisis. With thousands of supply teachers denied equal pay or the right to work due to exploitative and profiteering practices by supply agencies and umbrella companies, it’s time to end these practices. Exploitation and profiteering should have no place in a national education service. Our children and our teachers deserve better.

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