Coronavirus: Supply teachers 'suffering huge anxiety'

Scottish supply teachers say the way they are being treated by government and councils is ‘#WorseThanWetherspoons’

Emma Seith

Coronavirus: Supply teachers suffering 'huge anxiety'

Scottish supply teachers have written again to education secretary John Swinney, accusing councils and the government of causing them “huge anxiety and suffering” by failing to provide them with a financial safety net.

The open letter – signed anonymously by 120 supply teachers, double the number that signed a similar letter to Mr Swinney earlier this month – is calling for financial support for all supply teachers for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown, which has led to schools being closed and this year's exams being cancelled.

The letter states that while some supply teachers have contracts that will cover them for the next few weeks or months, “many more have been told that we do not qualify for any support and that we are now unemployed”.


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The supply teachers write: “We cannot wait – this issue is causing huge anxiety and suffering to us and our families at a time of international crisis. The position adopted by [local authorities' body]  Cosla and the Scottish government is #WorseThanWetherspoons and we call on you to provide financial support to ALL supply teachers with immediate effect and for the duration of the shutdown.”

Coronavirus hits supply teachers

The pub chain JD Wetherspoon hit the headlines recently after founder Tim Martin came under fire for saying his staff could take jobs with supermarkets amid closures, although the company has since announced it will be paying staff.

One supply teacher told Tes Scotland he had worked in the same school every day of this academic year – barring eight days – including attending parents’ evenings, helping to run football teams and volunteering for overnight trips. However, with just a verbal contract in place until the end of this term, the teacher said he had now been told he would only be paid up until tomorrow, the final day of March.

The teacher, who did not wish to be named, said: “I get paid through the PAYE system but I am not entitled to any sort of pay from the job retention scheme. I have also been informed that I am not self-employed either.”

The teacher called on the Scottish government to come up with a system to support supply teachers, adding: “Abandoning supply teachers like this will have a detrimental impact on schools in the future as many of my colleagues are going to give up the profession due to the way we are being left in the dirt.” 

Mr Swinney responded to the first open letter from supply teachers in a letter of his own on 22 March, saying he valued hugely “the key contribution that supply teachers bring to the education system” and that he would “as a matter of urgency” examine what could be done to help supply teachers not currently in a contract.

He said he would do this through the established procedure for determining teacher pay and conditions, the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT).

He added: “I am determined that supply teachers, as with all teachers, are treated fairly as the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to affect the whole of Scottish society.”

Having enough supply staff to provide cover classes has been a problem for Scottish schools in recent years, with the result that secondary students are often taught by non-subject specialists and teachers say lack of cover means they cannot take up professional development opportunities.

Many trace the drop in cover staff back to the 2011 pay deal, which tied supply teachers to a significantly lower daily rate unless they worked for more than five consecutive days.

This put retired teachers off doing the work and – although the lower rate was later reduced to two days – those on the frontline say the deal “broke the supply system”.

There will be fears that to alienate supply staff again could have huge repercussions for schools when closures are lifted.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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