Skip to main content

Supply numbers dwindle after 'sell out' deal

Cover teachers find their income plummets as cheap rates of pay kick in. Julia Horton reports

News article image

Cover teachers find their income plummets as cheap rates of pay kick in. Julia Horton reports

You must be pretty desperate to decide that taking a job 300 miles from your home driving buses is a better option than teaching.

But Glasgow secondary supply teacher James McCabe says it is the only way he can earn enough money to support his family, since the new pay deal was introduced in August.

As a bus driver in Birmingham he makes pound;100 a day.

After taking off the rent he pays to stay south of the border, his daily wage is pound;85 - still more than the pound;78 which he would get for short-term supply under the new teachers' agreement in Scotland.

Mr McCabe, 50, told TESS: "I love teaching, but I do not see myself in front of a class in the near future.

"I have young children at home, so my priority is to bring in an income . And the bank charges were mounting up."

When he saw the bus driver job advertised and it was five days a week of regular work, he thought it was preferable to be earning money instead of waiting for the phone to ring.

He said: "When they cut the wages for supply teachers, I think it reflected what is already happening in England, where (low-paid) classroom assistants provide cover. This is the Scottish version of that."

After qualifying in England and being granted provisional registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Mr McCabe was already struggling to get supply work, even before the controversial pay agreement came into force in August.

While his circumstances differ in that respect, his financial plight following the cut is shared by hundreds of supply teachers across Scotland.

The hardest hit are experienced professionals like Helen Cumming, who with more than 30 years' teaching behind her was on the top pay rate of up to pound;145 per day.

"When I started supply, pay was at the full rate and I could save money. The year before the deal I ended up doing supply full-time from September to Easter, but now there is very little work.

"Since August, I have worked 10 days, maybe 12. Most schools cover the absence themselves.

"I'm using about pound;1,000 of my savings per month now to pay my bills. I don't know if I'll do supply after this year," the Stirling-based teacher said.

Like many supply teachers, she believes pupils' education is suffering under the deal.

The short-term supply rate is limited to five hours per day over five days, so supply teachers no longer have paid time to plan lessons beforehand or do marking and preparation afterwards.

One supply teacher, who did not want to be named, said: "The heads do their best to prepare classes but often you are just handing out worksheets, so the brighter pupils are bored silly and the ones who struggle can't do the work.

"There's no differentiation. You don't need to be qualified to hand out worksheets."

And that is a growing concern among supply teachers.

Teaching assistants are already used as stand-ins to take classes in England.

While that is not supposed to happen in Scotland, last month TESS reported worrying allegations by the SSTA union that classroom assistants and other unqualified staff, including community policemen, were being drafted in quietly to cover classes (TESS, 16 December).

There is also outrage that some schools are apparently "playing the system", saving money by deliberately hiring a series of different supply teachers for fewer than five days each to avoid paying a single supply teacher the higher, long-term rate.

Glasgow maths supply teacher and founder of the new website, Sumera Tarbard, said: "Supply teachers in Scotland are now paid less than classroom assistants for short-term work and playing the system to save money means a supply teacher can work every day of the month but still only get paid at the lowest possible rate, which effectively halves their salary.

"We do a very difficult job, coming in at short notice to cover other teachers' lessons and when we do short-term supply, we are effectively providing an emergency service.

"If you call out, say, a plumber, you have to pay premium rates, not half price. It's very unfair and completely devalues supply teachers."

Government figures last June revealed that in the previous year only one in five newly-qualified teachers in Scotland found full-time work.

Education Secretary Michael Russell has acknowledged that the new deal has made it more difficult for schools in some parts of Scotland to recruit supply cover.

His answer was to announce last month that an extra 300 teachers should be trained next year.

That move is also aimed at meeting an anticipated rise in demand for teachers, and was based in part on the number of teachers claiming Jobseekers Allowance falling by 29 per cent.

But supply teachers say the move is misguided and will waste resources.

Ms Tarbard said: "The fact that JSA numbers are falling doesn't mean fewer teachers are unemployed. The nature of the job means that people are less likely to claim because they don't know what work they will get each week, and if they only get one day, they wouldn't class themselves as unemployed.

"I think the reason JSA claims have dropped is because more supply teachers are leaving the profession and looking for other work.

"Training more teachers is a waste of money because the issue is not lack of teachers, it is the lack of proper pay. The money should be spent giving existing supply teachers a fair deal."

Others have a more cynical view of the teacher-training announcement.

One supply teacher from Glasgow said: "I think it's a political move aimed at clearing out existing supply teachers who are creating a bit of a noise about their salaries being halved in order to replace them with new recruits who will basically be accepting the new pay and conditions when they sign up.

"It does not solve the problem, however, because when they start working they will be unable to earn enough under these terms too, so there will still be a shortage of supply teachers."

With passions running high and the recent pensions day of action still vivid in people's minds, some supply teachers are threatening their own version of a walkout.

Technically, they cannot strike as they are not under a contract. But more and more supply teachers are discussing a mass withholding of labour, now dubbed Sell Out Deal Flu.

The title refers to their threat to time any form of mass refusal to work during the winter flu season when teacher absenteeism will be at its height.

A spokeswoman for the movement said: "What other option do we have?

"Nobody has been fighting our corner. The unions have focused on the pensions issue, but as far as supply teachers' pay goes they have been quite toothless."

There is no doubt that schools across Scotland are having serious problems recruiting supply teachers for short-term cover.

Heads have reported serious problems as far afield as Aberdeenshire, North Lanarkshire and Falkirk.

In West Lothian, an extra 63 supply teachers were recruited in November in a bid to address supply shortage problems. But only 25 out of 324 requests for short-term supply teachers were filled - just 8 per cent.

West Lothian Council says the 299 unmet calls were covered internally by members of schools' management teams, including headteachers - which raises questions about the effectiveness of the recruitment drive.

Elaine Cook, WLC head of service for education, said no serious issues were reported by schools, despite the difficulties. She added: "It's not as bad as I expected it to be. We have a pretty good absentee record and even primaries said they were managing."

In Perth and Kinross, numerous supply teachers have turned down short-term work and older professionals have quit.

The council said the situation was better now than earlier in the session, but English and home economics are still causing problems, and rural schools find all cover harder because the extra travel costs make short- term supply work even less worthwhile.

Although primaries are still worst hit, particularly in remote areas, not all schools are struggling.

Linda Cleworth, headteacher at Strathdearn Primary, Tomatin, in Highland, said: "It hasn't really affected us. We are a small community primary and people only come here who are close to the community.

"Jobs are thin on the ground here and supply teachers' pay (after the cut) is actually quite high compared to jobs in hospitality. I've never had anyone refuse work."

Katie Williams, headteacher at Strathyre Primary, near Callander, also said no supply teachers had refused an offer of work since the deal came in.

Argyll and Bute Council, where Mr Russell has his parliamentary seat, had earlier reported problems but now says it has employed more supply teachers since the deal came in, and that the recruitment issues it has "are not significantly different from before the new deal came in".

The pay deal was agreed last May as the best way to save pound;45 million annually from education budgets in Scotland.

So far there is no central information on whether the projected savings are on track. Cosla says it has no plans to collate figures and no idea yet how savings are going.

A Cosla spokesman told TESS: "Councils and trade unions have worked together to ensure that the changes have been implemented effectively and will continue to monitor local application to identify and address any issues which might arise."

The EIS, which alienated supply teachers when it negotiated the deal, said the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers is monitoring the agreement and if there is hard evidence from councils of a supply shortage, the situation will have to be revisited.

Defending the agreement as the least worst option, EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice said: "Our view was that in the absence of an agreement there would have been a haemorrhaging of jobs throughout the system.

"This agreement is designed to save money from the system. If you put back in what was cut out, then something else has to give.

"If the deal has not delivered the savings, I don't think unions can be held responsible if the calculations were wrong."

Whether or not supply teachers do act en masse remains to be seen.

A Scottish Government spokesman defended the decision to recruit more teachers and stressed that it had not involved additional government funding.

However, he also said that the Government would be taking more action "in the new year".

Declining to elaborate, he added: "There are certainly issues around supply and I think we will be looking at that in the new year to see what we can do."

Meanwhile, one senior education figure close to the negotiations warned that supply teachers' demands for their pay to be returned to old levels could backfire.

"There seems to be a view among supply teachers that if they keep pushing, the solution will be that their pay and conditions will be reinstated," the source said.

"Part of the concern last year was the consideration by some local authorities that you can deal with supply in a different way, through agencies.

"In England and Wales, agencies operate very sharply through market rates, with significant variation across the country. If this problem escalates in Scotland, it may go in a completely different direction, to the further detriment of supply teachers.

"I would not be surprised if people having difficulties with recruiting go to people (agencies) who will provide the supply, and leave the question of pay to those agencies."


Due to a technical problem, Glasgow City Council has not yet started paying supply teachers on the new short-term rates.

Although the glitch has meant supply teachers have continued to be paid under the old pay scale, schools in the city have still found it difficult to recruit.

So when the new rates come into effect in Glasgow next week, heads fear it will be even harder.

Gordon Shaw, head of Eastbank Academy, told TESS: "Even not having the new pay scale we are really struggling to get access to supply teachers, (so) you would think that, with some staff effectively having their pay cut by as much as 40 per cent, if we can't get them now, what's the likelihood of people making themselves available for short-term supply then? For me, it's a no-brainer. It's likely the problem will be exacerbated and that is a real concern.

"We're struggling in a number of subject areas for short-term supply. I think all schools are struggling."

To keep classes going, Mr Shaw reluctantly moved two full-time pastoral care teachers, who happened to be qualified in biology as well, to cover a vacancy in that subject.

Following interviews in December, he hopes to have filled that post. But he is also employing a retired chemistry teacher to help with shortages in that department.

"It's really not ideal and it's disruptive for everyone.

"There are also problems recruiting for English, and home economics is a problem across the city, although not here.

"We've been talking about the need to make sure supply teachers get CPD opportunities, although that is difficult, especially for short-term supply.

"I think the council is looking at reinstating the permanent supply pool, which I think will help with recruitment, but the prospects are pretty bleak at the moment. My concern post-Christmas is about short-term supply. I don't know where the bodies are going to come from."


"I'm really aware that this might mean the end of teaching for me and I haven't even started. It's so demoralising."

The words of one desperate Scottish supply teacher sum up the experiences of many since the controversial pay deal came into force in August.

Like numerous others, she does not want to be identified because she fears that speaking out will further jeopardise her already bleak prospects.

She is far from alone among the ranks of supply teachers in leaving the profession because she cannot afford to work under the new agreement.

The 47-year-old mother and former housing officer dedicated five years of her life to re-training as a teacher - taking out more than pound;20,000 in student loans to help pay the bills.

But almost the moment her guaranteed year-long probationary post ended, so too did her hopes of a lasting career in teaching.

She said: "I started doing supply because I couldn't get a permanent job, I couldn't even get a temporary job because there were no jobs (effectively, due to massive competition for vacancies).

"I worked up the scale to Point 3 last year, so this year I should have been Point 4.

"But under the new deal, each day I work I am now pound;62 worse off than I was before. If I worked two or three days a week I'd be about pound;6,000 worse off in a year. Who can take that kind of pay cut?"

Having spent less time teaching than she did training for the profession she loves, she has just taken a job as a family and children's worker for a local church.

"I can only work part-time at the moment for personal reasons so I will never be paid the longer-term rate.

"I feel lucky to have a new job but I'm still really angry with the way things have worked out for supply teachers. It's totally unjust.

"The state paid a lot of money to train me but I don't think I'll ever earn above the threshold to repay those loans, so it has been wasted.

"I still want to be a teacher but I just don't see it happening."

Original headline: Supply numbers dwindle in wake of `sell out' deal

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you