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REPORT: NUT Supply Teacher Conference 2015

Fatimah Z Patel
14th August 2015

Reviewing the Current Situation

The quote of the day was, Every teacher is a term or a day away from being a supply teacher. Alex Kenny started the third conference with the required introduction and stated that he wanted supply teachers to have a voice, not just in the NUT, but in the teaching sector, a voice that can be heard by decision-makers in parliament and agencies that are not fairly paying their teachers.

Amanda Brown went on to speak about contract arrangements and gave an overview of emerging concerns. The powers that be have made it so that it is very difficult to unpick the legal framework and how they apply to our practice. Not only this, but it is hard to even get a hold of the framework; in fact, some people are unaware of their contract and pay is worked out. It was made clear that supply staff have no access to pension, let alone the Teachers' Pension Scheme (which raises the question as to why some payslips show a payment for pension - where is this money going?).

By law, if a supply teacher works for twelve weeks in the same place, they should be getting pay equal to the normal staff (not all agencies are abiding by this). However, there is a complete lack of transparency for any supply teacher who has signed the Swedish Derogation (the agencies flaunt this as a positive attribute and the thing to do), which becomes a permanent contract and requires the agency to pay the supply teacher a minimum pay (50% of the teacher's highest earnings in the last twelve weeks) when no work is available, in that the teacher has no right to equal pay and the contract can be dismissed after an aggregate four weeks of no work. In short, the agencies say, 'Sign the contract, we will provide you with work for x number of weeks, and you do it without complaint. If, after that, there is no work, we will pay you and you will essentially be earning for not working! What we will fail to tell you is that if there is no work for you for four straight weeks... Bye!'

There is a growing concern with the umbrella company/ies and their misuse of the contract arrangements. Umbrella companies, ultimately, are there to provide a specific type of arrangement (school asks agency to arrange supply for an agreed sum > agency contracts with intermediary umbrella company to supply a teacher for a sum > intermediary company arranges for supply teacher) but now both the agency and the umbrella company take their 'cut', as they see fit of course, from the supply teacher's wages (school asks agency to arrange supply teacher for an agreed sum > agency pays umbrella company to supply a teacher, after deducting their own costs and employer's NI > umbrella company 'employs' teacher without offering employment rights, deducting profit margin, tax, holiday pay etc.). It must be noted that the HMRC are looking in to umbrella companies (their profit are siphoned in to offshore accounts) who turn around and counter claim that the supply teachers they 'employ' are actually self-employed; the poor individuals are then unfairly taxed.

Amanda concluded by stating that there should be a charter set up for supply teachers and publicly advertised and posted in all the different forms of employment.

The champion for supply teachers, Shelagh Kavanagh, spoke next, rushing through her presentation on supply teacher and what they go through, from the best case scenario to the everyday one - the reality. She highlighted the difference on how the job of a supply teacher is presented as to others to lure them in and what it actually entails. Most importantly, Shelagh pointed out that supply agencies and its workers are nothing more than recruitment consultants. In fact, the staff we speak to in the mornings who give us our job for the day are hired as 'recruitment consultants' - they do not care where we go and what happens, they just need to make a 'sale', ergo supply teachers are meat on the market, nothing more. The supply teacher is a human resource.

Shelagh deftly pointed out the flaws in the pay supply teachers received as compared to what the agencies receive from the school (one in six receive less than ?£100 a day; less than 4% said they were paid ?£150 daily, which is still 10% below the national rate for a teacher with five years' experience), and specified that many head-teachers and principals of schools and colleges are unaware of the umbrella companies and how much supply teachers receive at the end of day (agencies are known to tell their supply teachers not to discuss pay with others, surprise, surprise); Shelagh stressed the importance of informing such persons, and as many others as possible, so action can be taken in terms of pay.

Finally, Shelagh stated that there was a lack of statutory regulation to moderate the conduct of agencies, with the REC Quality Mark being withdrawn under the Coalition in 2010; there is no evidence of scrutiny of practice at branch level. There is virtually no precedent in law of agencies being sanctioned under current legislation so non-compliant practice is widespread. More importantly, schools are unwittingly participating in unfair employment practices. Shelagh finish by outlining the basic wants of a supply teacher short and long term: to clearly know what their job is, to be paid equally and fairly for the work they put in, access to the Teacher Pension Scheme, (for some) to be paid through the PAYE payroll and for schools to be able to source supply teachers without the use of an agency.

Shelagh's presentation was warmly welcomed and cheered, as almost all in the room could identify with each point she made.

As for the next presentation, many attendees were angered by the presence of Kate Shoesmith, a recruitment agent and a member of the REC (they questioned why she was even there in the first place and that it was a grave insult to the supply teachers in the room). She spoke about conduct regulations still being in practice, agency worker regulations that are kept and enforced (the hows of it were not specified) and a compliance test wherein agencies who want to appear more serious and trustworthy must take this test and they are either accepted or rejected by the REC based on this test - apparently, all the top agencies have some sort of certification to prove they have sat this test and been accepted, however, this is not compulsory and an agency can still be open without being run through the REC.

Kate mentioned that they wanted to ensure that agencies and supply teachers were focused on 'putting pupils first' through a simple set of standards (again, no further explanations) and they checked whether agencies were providing staff with training and how they were treating people. She specified that there was a complaints procedure that went through to the Professional Standards Committee (the highest authority) but the procedure is not anonymous - why would a supply teacher, with no job guarantee, then make a complaint?

Kate stated that the REC wanted to set clear and transparent guidelines in terms of travel and subsistence and that we want to see a compliance, driving up standards and making a difference. The question arises, if agencies have no obligation to be with the REC, and the REC has no authority to 'check out' agencies and how they conduct themselves, therefore no authority to enforce such rules, how are they going to make this difference and enforce that guidelines are being adhered to?

Tony Carlin runs the NISTR (Northern Ireland Substitute Teacher Register) and came to discuss how the procedure was started and how it works. Unlike here, there are no agencies and employment of supply teachers is managed through the NISTR register. All supply teachers in Northern Ireland sign up to this register - there is a clear application process - and manage their own availability; the schools have access to this register and can see which teacher is available and their qualifications and experiences (teachers are also thoroughly vetted) ; the teacher then receives a text message on their mobile phone with regards to work. All supply teachers are paid at their full rate, there are no cuts, their salaries are pensionable (accrued) and, at the end, teachers are paid based on their subject teaching. The NISTR and Council are working to see how other rights can be added and how to make long-term positions permanent for the supply teacher.

There are a few problems in terms of it being the teacher's responsibility to manage their own availability - some forget to update their calendar regularly, some leave their mobile phones off or on silent and fail to see the text message on time. Tony stated that the NISTR was a pilot someone forgot about. It is important to note that the NISTR treats the supply teachers as respected individuals who are truly teachers, who have rights, and the NISTR actively enforces such rights and seeks to make life better for supply teachers. Why has this not been introduced or even piloted in England?! (The powers that be are looking in to this).

Questions and Comments (1)

We then came on to the first question time, where Alex gave everyone approximately two minutes (definitely not enough time). There were a range of questions and comments, some out-rightly scandalous: one agency registered under two names to pretend to schools that they were two difference agencies, and so had more money coming in; a supply teacher received a phone call for work, accepted and before he had even put the phone down, heard, Yes! I've made a sale!; another walked in to a supply agency and saw a roomful of recruitment consultants - why on earth did they need so many people just to pick up the phone and call people??; some expected: what do supply agencies do other than phoning the teacher and the school and under paying by approximately ?£60 a day?? They are just the admin people; the pay should be 95% to teachers and 5% to admin. There should be no place for private agencies! The money that is rightly for supply teachers and being given to recruitment consultants in agencies, who are on a much higher salary than us teachers.

There was a call for the abolition of market in education, for there to be a clear job description for supply staff (what is the difference between temporary, permanent and long-term?), another to hear from E-Teach and how they operate. Many members wanted to know more about NISTR (how did it start up, what is the cost of supply teaching exactly?, why has it not been piloted in the rest of the UK, Wales would be a good platform to start). It was identified that Bolton has a pro-forma in place whereby schools give a list of needs, there is generic training for supply teachers who join, there are supply teacher network meetings to ensure rights are being met and could this possibly be applied throughout the country?

Campaigning for Change

After lunch (sadly, a stand up - literally - affair; come on NUT HQ, you could have given us a decent seating area, considering we had a fabulous array of cold sandwiches, cold rolls, cold fish cakes and half-frozen desserts, and most of us had travelled to London for the event), Kevin Courtney proposed for a lobby in October (Wednesday 28th) and that we should get with other unions and share information and ideas. He spoke about the misconceptions that schools have - seeing supply teaching as efficient - and changing them. He questioned why agencies were making so much money, which were making more and why, stating, Agencies are taking money out of the education system and depriving you of adequate living in the meantime. And any teacher is a term away from being a supply teacher, potentially hence not just supply teachers, but all teachers should make it to the lobby.

Richard Knights proposed for a lobby in February, saying that we were not ready and not organised enough for the lobby to go ahead in October. He wants a massive, not moderate, success from the lobby, which needs to be well-organised. Schools, head-teachers, teachers need to be informed about agencies, umbrella companies (and how they claim the teacher is actually self-employed to avoid paying tax). Additionally, Richard stressed that voting needs to be done within the conference and there needs to be a concrete outcome; currently, we are meeting up, a conversation shop takes place and nothing is being done. We talk, there is no outcome.

Richard had wonderful words to say about supply teachers and agencies, I briefly quote: Supply teachers have suffered a monumental injustice at the hands of agencies, who are locusts, they are leeches, they are vampires who need to be purged and eradicated! (Cue delighted laughter and applause). Richard mentioned that there are 60,000 teachers who in school and have a pension scheme with the TPS, yet there are 40,000 supply teachers who do not and cannot, and he asked, What is the NUT prepared to do for supply teachers?

Regional Meeting and Outcomes

The room then broke up to go in to regional meetings, where dates for the lobby, rights of supply teachers, past experiences, proposals for local supply teacher meetings etc were discussed; members then reconvened in the hall to share their discussions. It was agreed that there should be a lobby on the 28th October, but it needed to be well-advertised prior to that date, in the NUT newsletters, in the Teacher editions, in school staffrooms and notice boards, an email to every NUT supply member, a letter to each local association and each region and with a meeting in September. Should the October lobby fail to be a spectacular success (for whatever reason, the concern being the lack of organisation and advertisements), then another one should go ahead in February 2016. It was agreed that the lobby should be about transparency: of rate (what is it and is it fair?), profit (what are the agencies/umbrella companies getting) and the bottom line (haggling for the best deal). A petition needs to be signed and we should also lobby MPs who are sympathetic to our cause, as well as head-teachers.

Many regional groups approved that there should be local organisations/executives for supply teachers in need of help and/or advice, and who can also recommend supply agencies (this could be done via a list of comments left by supply teachers); additionally, that the NUT, NAS, ATL, NUHT and other agencies should collaborate and work together, strengthen bonds and numbers, to 'respect and value' supply teachers. All agreed that there needs to be a drastic change in terms of supply teachers' pay, rights and treatment, and action needs to be taken.
Much to everyone's consternation, no one had pointed out at the very beginning of the conference the Bradford stabbing of a supply teacher over a mobile phone. This highlights how vulnerable supply teachers are. It turns out that the agency has agreed to pay said teacher whilst he recovers as the incident occurred at school. It was not clear exactly how long he would be paid, what he is being paid, and what about the emotional and psychological repercussions of such a horrific occurrence (if he decides he cannot go back in to teaching, there is no pension available to him!).

Members were concerned about the NUT website not working and not being user-friendly or information being easily accessible. Alex assured us that the NUT was being updated and a better version would be up soon. Members also wanted to know how much the NUT was willing to support supply teachers and what is it willing to do in terms of pensions for supply teachers? It was suggested that there should be a go-to person for all supply teachers, and who should all be informed of who this person would be.

Panel, Questions and Comments (2)

Bridget Chapman, Angela Travis and Richard Knights spoke for a few minutes at the end on their chosen topics, Bridget highlighting the new baseline testing the government is bringing out, that tests four year olds, which will be turned in to binary scores, making predictions for future tests. She urged all teachers to boycott this, with parental support, as this will affect teachers from reception to college. This ploy not only further marketises education, but put both students and teachers at a disadvantage. Also, why do four year olds need to sit a (rigid) test that does not take in to account their personality, their way of learning and thinking, and refuses accept an answer they come up with creatively (even if it is right)? Why do they need to sit a national test at all?! Bridget wants us to reclaim pedagogy, and insist that children not sit this test (it is not obligatory, although the government would like teachers to tout it so) and explain to parents why.

Angela spoke about the status of the supply network and the teachers involved, or rather, the lack of it - there is no commercial network set up. She urged for there to be training sessions for supply teachers to be in place, to show that we are valued, and she ended with, Supply teachers have become a minority group and not treated professionally and as professionals. Finally, Richard wants to get rid of agencies and look again at the Local Education Authority employing and supplying teachers.
Questions were raised with regards to the previous exploitations of teachers (from different parts of the world) by agencies, who would have been left destitute had it not been for the NUT and the trade union (teachers were being lured with promises from around the world, and then were misused and paid next to nothing), and was there any proof that agencies were up to these trick again? Some were shocked to hear of this and outraged.

Something else that everyone was enraged by is the current 'finder's fee' that agencies charge school who would like to keep the supply teacher - it is completely unearned money. In fact, that money should go to the supply teacher, who has put in all their effort, dedication and hard work to get the position. All the agencies do is make a phone call!
Members also queried about pensions and wanted to know how we could find out how much money we have missed out on?

Additionally, there was a call for supply teachers to always be at and a part of meetings (schools and the NUT) not just as an extra, in order to raise the profile of supply teachers.
Member queried and agreed that an exclusive group should be set up for supply teachers on Face Book (possibly separate to the NUT) and this should be made known. Shelagh pointed out that there was a group, known as 'The Supply Teacher' (who have paid for their site to be the first one to pop up when Googled), who are essentially harmless and crap! She also mentioned that supply teachers do not have to go through everything with the NUT, there are local governors, newspapers and so on. If you have been wronged, be relentless.
Some members said that we needed to stop moaning and start organising. There needs to be a Teachers' Union Congress, combining with all the unions to get the power we really need, as the NUT itself does not hold the power to get anything done.


Overall, the day was condensed in to many sessions in the space of just over four hours, much like a production factory. It was a day for supply teachers to have their voices heard, and yet they were the ones to a) have no control in organising the conference and b) have the least say in the day. In those few hours, there were nine presentations/speakers, lunch, a regional meeting with feedback from each one, and two (very short) question and comments sessions. Surely, when a group convenes to discuss the wrongdoings they endure, their rights, and what needs to be done, these group of people need to be given a much longer time to discuss said points (not two minutes, and hurried along if taking longer or making a point that the panels did not want to hear/face). We had time to voice questions, but not get solid answers. Admittedly, supply teachers could be there for two days and we would still be talking, but where there are three day NUT conferences for teacher members, why five hours for supply?

There was a lot of concern, with regards to the lobby (and supply), that the NUT has and is not advertising and doing enough. The NUT needs to step up and take a bigger, more active role in supporting supply teachers, not standing in the side-lines and telling us they will cheer us on, which is how it felt in this conference (for myself, at least).

As Richard Knights said, we talk - now we need to see the outcome.


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