Exclusive: Supply teachers' 'daily fight' for pay

Supply teachers are forced to battle with agencies, umbrella companies, schools and local authorities to try to secure income during lockdown

supply teacher fight for pay

Thousands of supply teachers are facing "a daily fight” through emails and phone calls in order to find out how they will get paid through the coronavirus pandemic, their advocates say.

Some are trying to enlist the help of MPs and government departments in order to gain clarity in a situation described as “a mess”.

Supply teacher Tim Holden, who has researched supply teachers' rights over pay, and runs Facebook groups for supply teachers, said he had advised more than 1,500 people over the past two weeks, and that they wanted equality with other teachers.


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He said: "For the past three weeks thousands of supply teachers have had to fight daily with their schools, local authorities, agencies or umbrella companies to be furloughed and receive any financial support during this crisis, with no money coming in to support themselves and their families.

"Every time progress is made, something else appears that delays the process again with a significant proportion of agencies and almost all umbrella companies.

"Supply teachers are writing/emailing/tweeting/calling anyone and everyone who may be able to help resolve the mess, including MPs, government departments, Martin Lewis, the media and unions."

While the vast majority of supply teachers are entitled to 80 per cent of pay under the government’s furlough scheme, Tes has learned this is not getting through to many of them.

That’s because the supply agencies and umbrella companies who employ them are not using the scheme, either because they don’t have the cash flow to pay wages up front or because there is lack of clarity over how pay should be calculated and about the dates an employee should have worked in order to be eligible, among other issues.

One teacher said on Facebook that the situation was "like a three-ring circus” while another said “if they don't look after us now they will be many teachers short in September”. Another said she was told by her agency to apply for the furlough scheme herself, but said “I later learned this was wrong”.

Latest figures from the DfE (from 18 November) show there were 12,853 “occasional teachers” employed in state schools. These are teachers with short-term contracts lasting less than one month.

This means supply teachers make up around 3 per cent of the entire teaching workforce. 

Around 16 per cent of them are employed directly by schools and local authorities which cannot access the furlough scheme.

But guidance from the Local Government Association on how such casual staff should be treated during the coronavirus outbreak states: “The expectation is that all categories of worker should be treated consistently with other employees in terms of pay even if they are unable to perform work for the employer, for example because of a workplace closure in circumstances when they are unable to do their work from home.”

Earlier this week supply teachers in Scotland reacted with relief after the EIS teaching union said it had reached a pay deal with local authorities' body Cosla.

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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