The huge sums spent by schools on supply teachers has encouraged one multi-academy trust (MAT) to come up with a new solution.
Astrea Academy Trust runs 19 schools in Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire. It found that, between September 2016 and March 2017, its academies collectively spent £725,000 on supply teachers.
To tackle what it calls “the twin challenge” of “quality of supply” and “exorbitant cost”, Astrea has decided to appoint 18 teachers to form an internal pool that can be deployed across its chain.
The teachers – dubbed “Supernovas” – will be full-time employees of the trust, with 10 already appointed and a further eight to follow later in the academic year. Astrea thinks the initiative could save it £350,000 per term, totalling more than £1 million over the academic year.
Libby Nicholas, the trust’s chief executive, says that the use of supply teachers is “well intentioned” but a “short-term fix”. She says they are “extremely expensive” and argues they can “act as a brake on the progress of a class”.
“We were appalled at how much money was being spent on supply in our academies: multiply that up across other MATs and you have nothing short of a devastating waste of public money,” Nicholas says.
We decided that enough was enough and that it was time to stop pouring money down the drain.
“Today, instead of paying through the nose for a supply teacher, our academies can call on our Supernovas – a pool of outstanding practitioners who have been appointed specifically to work across our academies as needed, radically reducing the need for supply teachers.”
Nicholas is not aware of other MATs doing the same thing. But does the idea have the potential to expand, especially if MATs were to team up?
NEU teaching union joint general secretary Mary Bousted doubts it. “If they could, my thought would be they would have done that by now. The fact that they haven’t says something else is happening.”
In an ideal world, MATs could work together to solve the teacher supply problem, she says. But, she adds: “The feedback that I get from MATs and MAT CEOs is that there’s not a supportive, collaborative atmosphere among MATs. What there is, is cut-throat competition.”