Coronavirus: 'Emergency' call to help supply teachers

Government is asked for 'emergency grant' to help supply agencies and umbrella companies with cash flow to allow them to furlough teachers

supply teachers in dark over furlough

The government been called upon to make an emergency grant available to supply agencies to enable them to pay supply teachers 80 per cent of their wages under the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

The scheme, also referred to as the “furlough scheme”, which was announced by the government last month, applies to all PAYE workers, which covers supply teachers who are employed by agencies or umbrella companies – that’s around 82 per cent of the total.

But Tes has been told that some supply agencies are unable to use the scheme because it requires them to pay the wages up front (before being able to claim them back) when many do not have the cash flow. One industry insider says that as many as half the country agencies are not furloughing staff. 

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The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), a national body representing 350 supply teaching agencies among its members, has now written a letter to business secretary Alok Sharma calling for "emergency grant support".

Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the REC, said: “Cash flow is a major challenge as it will take several weeks for the government funding to come through. One solution would be an emergency grant for wages, which would then be deducted from furlough payments when they become available.”

Tes has also seen results of poll of supply teachers carried out on Facebook which reveals that, of the 360 respondents, 102 said they were paid by an agency that had reached no agreement over the furlough scheme, and 100 were employed by an umbrella company that had reached no agreement.

Supply teacher Tim Holden, who carried out the poll, has researched teacher pay and says he has given guidance to more than 1,500 supply teachers in the past three weeks.

He says there is confusion as to whether a teacher can be furloughed by more than one employer, and over who should apply for the furlough scheme (where both a supply agency and an umbrella company are involved in a teacher’s employment).

Umbrella companies, which employ around 25 per cent of supply teachers, are also calling for more clarity on how pay can be calculated before committing to the furlough scheme, as well as how pay should be calculated and the dates an employee should have worked in order to be eligible.

Lorin Clough, of supply agency Just Education Ltd, said his agency was using the furlough scheme but said he thought around half of supply agencies were not.

He said: “They do not have the cash flow at a time when money isn’t coming in from schools.”

In his interview with Tes over Easter, Patrick Roach, new general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, warned that some supply teaching agencies could potentially be about to “go to the wall” due to loss of business income from schools.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said that if employers needed short-term help because of cash flow issues, they may be eligible for the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

She said: “Our understanding is that agency teachers who are not currently in work in a school should be eligible for the government furlough scheme, and we would be concerned if this is not happening and they are suffering hardship as a result.”

A government spokesperson said: “The government is doing everything it can to support people in work, including supply teachers. The support available for supply teachers and other contingent workers in the education sector will depend on their individual circumstances and the nature of their employment. Further detailed guidance on this issue is due to be released soon.”

Tes' parent company owns three teacher-supply agencies

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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