The choice is stark: look after your finances or health

Supply teachers are scrambling for work at the moment – putting fears about Covid safety to one side, says Paul Read
4th November 2020, 3:34pm

Share

The choice is stark: look after your finances or health

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/choice-stark-look-after-your-finances-or-health
Coronavirus & Schools: Supply Teachers Face A Stark Choice, Says Paul Read

Supply work has never been the most secure way of earning money from teaching, but it's more uncertain than ever now.

Under normal circumstances, the appeal of supply teaching is obvious. No late nights marking or preparation. A degree of control over the days you work. New schools that offer a variety of experiences and challenges. 

Coronavirus changed everything. 

Until recently, I was one of the lucky ones. A long-term booking was honoured up to the end of May. And then, just before doors were closed on new admissions to the job-retention scheme, I was placed on furlough until the last week of August.

And then September came. 

Coronavirus: Supply teachers struggling to find work

The phone didn't ring. Not once. Work finally picked up in October, and my agency has been scrambling to find me placements ever since. But the NASUWT teaching union's recent news that nearly a quarter of supply teachers have been forced to leave teaching since the pandemic began does not surprise me. Nor does the revelation that half of all supply teachers admitted financial hardship. 

It has become apparent that many schools have been using internal supply, fearful of bringing outsiders into their "bubble groups". But now coughs and colds are beginning to keep staff at home, as the days shorten towards winter. 

Every cover booking feels like a welcome down payment against another potential furlough later on: an incremental bumping up of the 80 per cent that September so viciously reduced. 

Worries about school closures compete with worries about schools remaining open, leaving many supply teachers weighing their finances against their odds of safety and, in some cases, mental health. One supply teacher told me that she had no way of paying her mortgage unless she travelled 15 miles to a school that she'd sworn, for behavioural reasons, to never go back to.

The uncertainty of what may be coming

We have become rare sights in staffrooms these days. Teachers are fascinated by the different Covid protocols other schools employ and regularly ask me how their school compares. 

Those teachers at schools that insist upon personal protective equipment in the one-way corridors, rigidly staggered breaks and Byzantine lunchtimes are envious of teachers at schools that pay only lip service to the pandemic at their gates. Their eyes go all misty at thoughts of teaching "in the old days", eight months ago. 

Conversely, the schools with children who share the same lesson changeover, resulting in bottlenecks of students at the exits as the bells ring, are eager to hear about the schools that insist on frantically swabbing down desks at the end of each lesson, what it's like to teach behind a face mask. These techers stand a little farther away from me than usual, as I tell them. 

Financially surviving one lockdown doesn't make the uncertainty of what may or may not be coming any less worrying. The situation appears to be both open-ended and ever-changing (as we know from March, government decisions can about-turn very quickly). 

I have spoken with supply teachers who have been close to tears in the staffroom, one week's lost pay away from being unable to feed their children, and that's while schools are open.

Hardship funds require masses of paperwork for a relatively small, one-off payment, and universal credit only stretches so far. 

The choice for supply teachers appears to be stark: accept what work you can, placing your worries about your health to one side, or join the growing number who've left the profession, at least until these uncertain times are over. 

Paul Read has been teaching for 15 years, and currently works as a supply teacher in East Sussex

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters