Coronavirus: Supply teachers facing poverty

Supply teachers with coronavirus or who are self-isolating can claim £94.25 a week statutory sick pay – but will get nothing if schools close

coronavirus supply teachers

Supply teachers have criticised the “paltry” level of statutory sick pay available to them during the coronavirus outbreak, and have called on more support from the government and unions if schools close and they are “forced out of work”.

Supply teachers, like other “gig economy” workers, can claim statutory sick pay (SSP) from day one if they are self-isolating or if they are ill with Coronavirus, as outlined by chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Budget speech last week.

But one supply teacher pointed out to Tes that SSP, at £94.25 a week, is not even a day’s pay, and said Mr Sunak had “side-stepped” the question of how people would survive on this.

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She said: “What are the unions doing about this because it’s not enough? It will not sustain anyone if they’re going be off work a week or more. With food, mortgages or rent to pay, it’s just not going to cover it. It's crazy. It’s a paltry sum.”

According to the 2020 minimum income calculator set up by the Centre for Research in Social Policy, a UK household of two adults and two primary-age children needs an average of £679.04 a week to have a “decent” standard of living.

But this small amount of sick pay is more than they will get should schools close, in which case many would simply have their contracts terminated, Tes understands.

The London-based supply teacher said she had already started looking into other sources of income should schools close during the pandemic such as freelance writing, online tutoring and the availability of hardship funds.

She added: “We are compromised already by not being paid in the holidays and now it’s likely we’re about to be forced to stop working against our will.”

Marina Arjona, a teaching assistant who works on a supply basis, said she had not been offered any work for two weeks. She said: "I have no means to pay my rent or my basics if this coming week I don't make it to a school to work. I don't know where to ask for help, who to speak to. I have several agencies and they are all asking me to wait, but my bills will not wait.

"For members of staff employed by schools, they will continue to get their salaries coming in. If I do not work, I do not get paid. And I am also part, like many other support staff, of the education sector. Schools need us, but when they do not, we are on our own."

The wife of a different supply teacher, who did not wish to be named, said the situation “exposed the precarious situation of supply teachers”. 

She said her family had enough savings to live on for a few months should schools close, but that other teachers, especially younger teachers, might not have that cushion.

She said: “Government help [SSP] is nice but I don’t think it makes an impact on the outgoings that we have. It’s not going to get us out of any problems we have.

“The other question is, how quickly would we get the money because these things have a massive turn around time?”

A spokesman for The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents supply teaching agencies in England, said that in most cases schools would end a supply teacher's contract were they to close.

He said: “If a supply teacher is not sick with coronavirus, or is not self-isolating because of potential exposure to coronavirus, then it’s a contractual issue whether the supply teacher gets paid or not. It is not an SSP issue.

"In most instances, under the contracts, clients (schools) have flexibility to end a supply teacher’s assignment where they are not needed. Employment businesses [supply agencies] have flexibility to end the assignment with the supply teacher without liability where the client (schools) ends the assignment.”

The NASUWT teaching union says it is updating its guidance for teachers regarding coronavirus on a daily basis, and has a benevolence fund for its members who are experiencing financial hardship. 

The Education Support charity also runs a hardship fund for teachers.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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