08 Sep 10

Supply teaching freedom or exploitation?

Do supply teachers enjoy flexibility and freedom or are they exploited and losing out to cover supervisors and HLTAs?

Supply teachers have long played an essential role by providing cover for teachers who are ill or absent. Many supply teachers enjoy or find useful the flexibility of supply teaching and the reduced burden of paperwork and bureaucracy more freedom and less responsibility, perhaps. You don't have to put up with the daily grind of working with colleagues or pupils you dislike.

Some teachers find supply work a useful way of gaining experience or of returning to teaching or preparing to retire from it.

However, there are also many difficulties.

Challenging schools tend to use more supply teachers, so they often have to work in difficult or stressful situations.

If you've not taught in a school before it makes it difficult if you don't know anything about the discipline policies, the pupils (which are diligent, those with problems, those who like to cause trouble, especially for a new teacher), the other members of staff and their staffroom politics

There are also pay and conditions issues sick pay is not usually available, for example, and Voice has also heard from members who complain of being 'exploited' by the agencies that employ them and discriminated against in terms of their rates of pay, pension provision and training.

In fact, in its recent 'Election Manifesto', Voice called for "The provision of equal opportunities for supply teachers in terms of salary, pensions and CPD" (continuing professional development). (Voice supports a CPD entitlement for all teachers.)

A small step forward has been achieved in the pay of agency workers, including supply teachers.

Last year, employment law was changed to give agency workers equal pay rights with regular workers, although as the qualifying period was one day a week for 12 weeks, this cut out supply teachers because of the inevitable intervention of school holidays. However, it has been confirmed that periods when 'businesses' are closed do not count as interruptions to service.

It is not all good news though, because service has to be in the same school and the new arrangements do not come into force until September 2011!

The role of the supply teacher has changed forever. There is still a very important role for supply teachers (or cover teachers employed as part of a school's staff) to provide medium and long-term cover for teacher absence. However, they now face competition from HLTAs (higher level teaching assistants) and cover supervisors. Some schools (in breach of the workforce agreement have been using teaching assistants to provide cover instead of using supply teachers or even HLTAs or cover supervisors).

Do let us know your views and experiences .


Unions must campaign to ensure all supply teachers regardless with whom they are employed, have access to the TPS.

The provision for agency staff to enjoy equal levels of pay after working in a certain school over a period of time will be hard to realize since schools will limit the period of engagement.

I can never forgive the toothless unions for accepting cover supervisors to replace supply teachers. Putting teachers out of work is like Voice advocating strike action to deny children continuous education. You have allowed supervision to replace teaching. A seasoned supply teacher has gradually increased their ability to teach across vast parts of the curriculum.

Teachers become experienced and expensive. We become very angry when we read on application forms the boxes dealing with equal opportunities. There are seldom ever equal opportunities because schools virtually always seek NQTs. Schools have lied to me on the telephone by stating they only appoint on merit. The number of young teachers in staff rooms appointed to newly filled posts never subscribes to the notion they were appointed on merit compared to the expensive and experienced teachers.

It is about time that NQTs felt disadvantaged by older and more experienced teachers.

Accepting a lower starting salary has always tempted me in principle for a permanent post but this would adversely affect accruement of pension.

I think schools favouring NQT's due to cost has been around a long time.

Just before PGCE in the late 1990s I worked for a business that provided computer package training at their premises.

I had a teacher come to learn Microsoft Office, and when she mentioned that she was a former teacher, I told her that I had applied for PGCE.

She told me that by the time you get to 30 years old you get to expensive, and they try and get less experienced staff (she told me she was 32).

Until recently I was working in FE. At first I was on what is known as a 'casual contract' (directly employed), which meant that £5 and hour was deducted from my hourly rate to cover holiday pay (I was full time sometimes teaching a 40 hour week, with no prep time). This did not seem ethical behaviour from a large public sector institution.

I am now freelance, through my Limited Company, and also intend to set up a vocational training centre.

The real villains of this are the agencies who cream off a % of what the schools pay. But then why do the schools not keep their own supply list and cut the agency out? When I worked in FE we had a long list of part time lecturers who came in regularly for specialisms, or who could be phoned at short notice to cover sudden absence. If schools cannot keep such a list Ofsted ought to have words to say on this. Regular supply work in one establishment would benefit both parties

There is a problem with the bigger picture here. It's the amount of people training vs those retiring. Last year, it was in the order of 39,000 vs 19,000. This is a significant amount of surplus teachers. Add this up over a few years (with plenty of people scraping by doing supply and handing in every application form for everything).

I qualified in 06 and started a long term science cover. Due to "having to buy the slave", I didn't get the job which came out of it, however the grapevine rattled and I found myself with a surprise contract (not advertised and no interviews). So, after that ran out it was back to supply. Forward to 2008. Cover Supervisors were being used a lot and nearly all the work in E Cornwall ran out. Barely anything. Then 2009 and Plymouth started really drying up. When I say drying up, I mean "I was wondering how the hell I was going to make ends meet more often than not". I ended up making a leap of faith into starting my own business up with a few friends whilst doing cash in hand building and running my car on naughty fuel. Do not underestimate how wonderful getting a PGCE is, it is my biggest achievement, I am so proud and valid as a person. Supply teaching eroded that, I told myself it was valid experience and made a point of really trying to gain from it.

The agency used to treat me like crap, it was all my fault that I couldn't be 20 miles away in 10 minutes, or I wasn't able to do a 160 mile round trip. I'd drag myself in, often to utter chaos and at first it was scary, but after a while, I could just do it. I got the skills required to get in there and get anything under control, get order and make things happen. This was usually without recognition or thanks and for about £60 after tax. That's before I put fuel in the car.

So, I'm pretty grateful I had the work.

It dried up and gradually my self esteem wore down, I started looking at the whole situation as an outsider and then I realised that I was and the situation was hopeless. I made the decision to leave with an element of my dignity and sanity.

So, in the meantime, so many people are coming out and think "bloody hell, I'll use my head". They get trained, spend their money and time getting a piece of paper and then they realise there are no jobs. They then think "I'll do supply".

The insult is that despite all of these teachers, schools are cutting corners using cheap, unqualified staff who have little idea and ability on the back of their arrogant self-delusion. This is a massive and fundamental insult to them on the gravytrain to those who have been misled into this situation by people who are not fulfilling the best interests of the students.

The government don't care, the LEA's gave any care to the heads, the heads think that unqualified people do a better job, the unions are only for people with permanent jobs.

Why would you continue with this?

There is a log jam here. you can't go on netting another 20k teachers all expecting some sort of work and then employ PEOPLE OFF THE STREET!

Use Your Head.... Don't bother training!

I live in Leeds and qualified in 2006 with a PGCE-FE. My primary aim was to go into supply as it suits my personality. For the first three years the work was plentiful and I was very busy. Since last year the work has started to dwindle and this year has been absolutely terrible for me. I feel this is due to two factors; Firstly, the number of cover supervisors and HLTAs has killed the demand for day-to-day and short-term supply. I understand the law states that a cover supervisors cannot cover a class for more than three days and yet I have been in school where cover supervisors are doing long-term cover. Who is policing the law in schools? Secondly, I feel a lot of agencies are not very good when it comes to people management i.e. they do not have any loyalty to teachers. They'll call you if and when it suits them. With agencies you are dealing with sales people and they do what is best for themselves and not you. You can be excellent at what you do but put one foot wrong and they'll bounce on you and maybe not use you again.

Can anyone tell me do they see any light at the end of the tunnel, will the work increase? What are the unions doing to point out to parents that their children are not being taught by qualified teachers? What does this say for the value we place in eduation when cover supervisors who are not qualified to teach a class actually do teach?

I really love being a supply teacher and know I am very good at what I do. Unfortunately, I am so disheartened this hear that I am considering getting out of the teaching profession due to the fact I just can't get the work I am accustomed to.

Does anyone have any advice?

No sorry I don't have any advice. I'm in the same boat! Two years ago, I was turning work down as I couldn't manage the 10 days a week I was being asked to do! The heads said they asked me to go at teach at their schools because I was 'an excellent, strong supply teacher and up to date with the curriculum, interactive boards and had a good relationship with staff and children. I was covering about 5/6 schools in the area where I live. Gradually the phone stopped ringing and today I'm lucky if I get one day a week. I know for a fact that this is because HLTS's are being used not just for a few hours but often for days. I had a call from a school the other day, I asked why I was needed. She said, the teacher is off ill and so is the HLTA! So, who feels like she's at the bottom of the pile then?
It's time someone let the parents know what is going on, because believe me, they DONT! Im so glad my children are now out of full time education.
Does it take something really nasty to go wrong in a classroom before the public realize what is happening? [heaven forbid]
What of the poor HLTA who only get a couple of pounds more for what is expected of them! I really miss my supply. Maybe I'm a bit unusual,but I loved getting up in the morning and wondering where I was going to be for the day, now Im just frustrated and wondering what else I could do?! Any suggestions?

I agree

Blame the Unions. They created this mess and sold teachers down the river. Unfortunately teachers' unions are weak and sit back while their members are being exploited. Talk about wilful blindness!!

Supply teachers often do this work for domestic reasons. The government won't give us a pension till 66 yet our job is being swept away due to unqualified people working as cover supervisors. Just a joke. Unqualified teachers they are called. Maybe the British population would welcome an Unqualified dentist when they require dental care??? Same idea.

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