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Heads warn of 'exorbitant cost' of teacher recruitment crisis

Seven in 10 headteachers have seen supply teacher spend go up. Trainee teachers offered cash incentives, laptops and tablets to sign up to supply agencies rather than apply directly to schools

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Seven in 10 headteachers have seen supply teacher spend go up. Trainee teachers offered cash incentives, laptops and tablets to sign up to supply agencies rather than apply directly to schools

Seven in 10 secondary school headteachers have seen their spending on agency supply teachers rise over the past three years, a new survey has revealed. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which carried out the survey, said the teacher recruitment crisis was creating an “exorbitant cost” for schools and the taxpayer.

The survey of 322 headteachers in state secondary schools in England found that almost all of them (97 per cent) had used agency supply teachers in the past 12 months – and that 66 per cent were forced to do so to cover vacancies caused by difficulty recruiting permanent staff.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents said they had to increase or significantly increase the amount they spent on agency supply teachers during the past three years.

Supply teachers spend

The main reasons for this increased expenditure were greater reliance upon supply agencies because of difficulties in recruiting permanent teachers, with 53 per cent of heads citing this as a factor, and increased supply agency fees, which was cited by 54 per cent of the respondents.

The survey found that 17 per cent of schools spent between 6 per cent and 10 per cent of their budget on supply teachers during the past 12 months. In an average-size secondary on minimum funding in 2018-19, that equates to between £261,000 and £435,000.

ASCL said it had been concerned for some time that recruitment agencies are encouraging trainees on initial teacher training programmes to sign up with them rather than applying directly to schools. The trainees are then offered to schools and a fee is charged to the school if the trainee is appointed.

In the survey, 33 per cent of headteachers said they were aware of trainees in their area being offered inducements to join agencies. Some headteachers said this took the form of agencies offering cash incentives, laptops and tablets, while others said agencies told trainees that signing with them guaranteed a job and that it would be easier than applying to schools.

Scope for regulation

The ASCL is calling on the government to crack down on these practices by considering the scope for regulation. It is asking initial teacher training providers to warn trainees that they should not sign up with these agencies.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 per cent) also said they had been charged a “finder’s fee” in the past year when they had permanently employed a teacher who was previously working supply. 

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said: “While there are good supply agencies which provide a valued service to schools, it is clear that charges and quality are variable.”

He said the education system “desperately” needed to address “the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is driving up the use of supply teachers”.

He added: “Children must have permanent teachers who know them and understand their needs. It is also an exorbitant cost on schools – and the taxpayer – to have to fill vacancies in this way.”

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