Thousands of supply teachers are at risk of being “thrown to the wolves” with a sudden loss of earnings due to partial school closures, a union is warning.
The NASUWT says that, despite supply teachers being eligible for the furlough scheme, fewer of them are likely to receive the money than during the previous lockdown.
This, the union says, is because of changes to the rules that mean supply agencies now incur added costs such as employers’ pension and national insurance contributions.
An NASUWT national spokesperson for supply teachers said: "The fact that supply agencies and umbrella companies now have to pay these costs has resulted in many agencies saying they simply cannot afford to furlough supply teachers, and, as a consequence, they are not furloughing many of our hard-working and dedicated supply teacher members.
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“Figures from our latest NASUWT annual supply teacher survey showed that a significant number of agencies and umbrella companies did the right thing and placed supply teachers on furlough under the CJRS [Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme] prior to changes made in August 2020.
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“The government needs to put together a financial package to ensure hard-working and dedicated supply teachers are not thrown to the wolves."
The NASUWT along with other unions, including the NAHT, NEU, GMB and Unison, have today written a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson calling for the government to “send a direction and provide adequate funding” to ensure supply staff on live assignments continue to be paid from the budget of the school – and to ensure that those who had their assignments terminated are reinstated on the original terms.
The unions also call on the government to assess the extent to which the current requirements to pay national insurance and pension contributions are acting as a disincentive for agencies to furlough workers, and to ensure agencies “do the right thing” and furlough education workers to help them “weather these particularly difficult times”.
NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “It cannot be right that hard-working and dedicated supply staff, who have been fundamental to ensuring that schools continue to function during the ongoing pandemic, are being prohibited and excluded from financial assistance at such a critical time. These are the very people that schools will rely on going forwards, so they must be treated with dignity and respect.”
Supply teacher Tim Holden, who has researched the rules around furlough and advised thousands of fellow teachers since March, said his research via Facebook groups suggested that only between 5 and 10 per cent of supply teachers will be furloughed this lockdown.
He said there had been a lack of guidance for schools, resulting in many schools simply cancelling contracts, whereas in the first lockdown Department for Education guidance said schools should still pay for teachers on live assignments.
He said: "This means that supply teachers on long-term agency assignments or employed by schools are purely relying on the good will of schools to pay these contracts in full. Unfortunately, the majority of schools have just cancelled contracts to save money with no care of how the supply teacher will survive financially."
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), a national body that represents supply teacher agencies, has also called for the government to provide more help to agencies to enable them to run the furlough scheme.
In a letter to Mr Williamson, it states: “Where an agency furloughs a worker, they are required to pay the worker's national insurance and pension contributions themselves, with no additional support or funding from government.
“These additional costs, multiplied across potentially hundreds of supply teachers, could be the difference in whether an agency is able to continue operating or not. Where agencies can't afford these costs, they will not be able to furlough supply teachers. Education agencies have been crucial in providing schools with supply teachers and key support staff during the pandemic. It is imperative that they are given the support they need to continue providing schools with essential workers.”
The NASUWT says it has around 10,000 members who are registered as supply teachers.
The DfE has been contacted for comment.