AN employment tribunal could this week point the way to giving thousands of supply teachers pay and conditions parity with their permanent colleagues in schools.
The National Union of Teachers believes the case brought by Charles Grayhurst, a 26-year-old special school teacher from Kent, could be pivotal in its battle to end what it sees as the exploitation of supply staff.
The case centres on whether supply staff working full-time in a school can be counted as permanent employees.
If successful, the union could argue that supply staff have a right to be put on the teachers' contract, and given pension rights. In contrast to local authority supply pools, most agencies offer supply staff poorer pay and conditions than their permanent colleagues.
Mr Grayhurst was working at an unnamed school full-time as a supply teacher from November 1999 to April last year, when the school offered him a permanent post. By the time the new academic year started last September, Mr Grayhurst expected to be entitled to an additional experience point after working in the school for 10 months, for an extra pound;1,032.
But Mr Grayhurst's headteacher, acting on the advice of Kent County Council, claimed the supply work did not count towards the extra point.
The NUT believes, however, that it can show that Mr Grayhurst was effectively an employee while on supply, having worked at the school constantly from November to April.
If the tribunal at Ashford finds in Mr Grayhurst's favour, NUT senior solicitor Graham Clayton said the union would be able to argue that all supply staff were effectively employed by their local authority.
This could pave the way for thousands of supply teachers to be put on the teachers' pay and conditions document and to be given the same pension rights as permanent teachers.
Mr Clayton said: "The law will be on our side, and we will put a forceful argument to the Government."