Supply teachers face 'exploitation' and uncertainty, union claims

Kaye Wiggins

Supply teachers face “exploitative” practices, are “bullied” by agencies and often struggle to find work, a survey has revealed.

A motion expected to be debated at the NASUWT union’s annual conference in Cardiff later today says the union “deplores” what it describes as growing evidence of “exploitative employment practices”.  

It comes after a survey by the union found 66 per cent of more than 1,000 supply teachers said they had been asked to sign agreements with offshore firms or umbrella companies. The union claims some supply agencies use these arrangements to avoid paying tax and National Insurance, and to “engage in exploitative employment practices”.

The survey also found 77 per cent of teachers working for supply agencies said they had chosen to work for agencies because this was the only way they could find work.

More than half (51 per cent) said they had faced problems in finding work, and 17 per cent said they had had to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance. Almost four in ten (38 per cent) said the amount of work available had declined since September 2010.

The survey found 49 per cent of supply teachers were paid less than £120 per day. The union claims most schools are charged “well in excess of £180 per day for their services”.

One respondent said: “The agency bullies me into taking jobs I am not even qualified for… Worst of all, they now push me into work for two or three hours at cover supervisor rates. In other words, I am working for less than £30 a day sometimes. That's starvation wages.”

Another respondent said they were not an English specialist, but most of their work was teaching English. “This is onerous as I have to 'mug up' a great deal in my own time,” they said. “The agency knows this but I am still not being paid according to scale…My requests to have some training specifically for English teaching fall on deaf ears.”

A motion expected to be discussed at the NASUWT’s conference today calls for “effective regulation of umbrella companies and supply agencies to outlaw exploitative employment practices and address the tax avoidance practices which disadvantage supply teachers and defraud the public”.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said a pledge by chancellor George Osborne in last year’s autumn statement to review the use of umbrella companies – part of a bid to crack down on tax avoidance – did not go far enough.

“A review will not resolve the exploitation and lacks the urgency which should be demonstrated when tax is being avoided and workers exploited,” she said.

Meanwhile, the union also claims teachers are increasingly facing “home invasion” in the form of an expectation that they will check and respond to emails outside working hours and during sick leave.

A separate NASUWT survey of 1,500 teachers found 73 per cent received work-related emails outside school hours, up from 69 per cent in 2014. Almost half (49 per cent) received emails during sick leave, up from 43 per cent last year.

Thirty-two per cent said they were expected to communicate with parents or carers by email in their own time, up from to 25 per cent in 2014.

Ms Keates described the trend as “a form of home invasion on a grand and unacceptable scale.”

One teacher responding to the survey said they had been “emailed and phoned constantly”, despite being on compassionate leave because their mother was in intensive care.

Another described “constant reminders and updates”, adding: “It's awful; it means I cannot relax at weekends. They are sent to my personal email too despite having a work email [account]."

Related stories

Teachers encouraged to rate 'unscrupulous' supply agencies - 20 April 2014

Supply teachers will be hit hardest by performance pay, unions warn - 15 October 2013

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Kaye Wiggins

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