The government has been accused of making it harder for supply teachers to get paid by “changing the boundaries” on who is responsible for paying them during school closures.
Government guidance last month stated that supply teachers working for agencies and umbrella companies could be paid through the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also known as the furlough scheme).
However, new guidance states that schools may still pay agencies for supply teachers on "live assignments".
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It states: "Where schools have agency workers on live assignments who can continue to work, they may continue to make previously agreed payments for the supply of workers."
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Supply teacher Tim Holden, who runs Facebook groups for supply teachers and says he has helped more than 1,500 teachers in the past three weeks, said the new guidance "created confusion" because it was still unclear who should pay such supply teachers.
He said: “Part of the confusion is down to the language the DfE uses – like the word 'may', which seems to make it optional for schools to pay or not. But what's needed is 100 per cent black-and-white guidance so that people can't draw their own conclusions about what it means."
He added: "The government is changing the boundaries as to who is responsible for the whole process.
“It is likely to cause even more delays to supply teachers yet to receive any financial support and raises questions over those who have already been furloughed.”
The new guidance also states that "agencies who receive money for workers [on live assignments] in line with this guidance should not furlough these workers".
However, some agencies have already furloughed such workers (through which they can pay supply teachers 80 per cent of their wage before claiming the money back from the government).
Lorin Clough, sales director of supply agency Just Education Ltd, said the company had already been paying a furlough wage to its supply teachers for the past three weeks and that the new guidance “complicated things”.
He said: “We now need to go back to schools and say to them that for those longer-term assignments that were uninterrupted they need to still be paying.”
Sophie Wingfield, head of policy and public affairs at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents supply agencies, said the DfE had “missed an opportunity” by not making the guidance clear earlier.
She said: “There now needs to be clear and quick communications between schools, the agencies they work with, and supply agency workers so that as many workers as possible receive payments at this difficult time.”
Kevin Courtney, joint-general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "Supply staff have been knocked from pillar to post throughout the government's response to Covid-19.
"[Education secretary] Gavin Williamson must now take a firm grip to ensure that schools that are receiving public funding for supply cover continue to pay those workers in accordance with the Cabinet Office guidance and that agencies comply with their moral obligation to furlough supply staff who are eligible."
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “The government’s belated publication of guidance regarding contingent workers seeks to clarify a number of matters that the NASUWT has been pressing for, including that supply teachers who were already undertaking long-term assignments in schools, or who were booked in for future long-term assignments, should still be paid by schools for that work.
"Where schools choose not to follow the government’s guidance on this, supply teachers working through an agency can still seek to be furloughed through the government’s Job Retention Scheme.”
The new guidance states that supply teachers working through supply agencies and umbrella companies who have no work this term can still be paid through the furlough scheme.
Supply teachers employed directly by schools (around 16 per cent) should continue to be paid directly by the school, according to the guidance.
The DfE said that the new guidance should not contradict the original, but was designed to add further clarity to cover the range of possible circumstances.