Demand exceeds supply

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Is there a backlash against using assistants to cover for teachers? Michael Shaw reports

Hundreds of schools have been left without supply agency teachers to cover lessons because of an unexpected surge in demand for temporary staff.

Requests for temporary staff are around 7 per cent greater than this time last year and supply agencies have had to turn down thousands of days worth of bookings in the past month. Companies which have been affected include Select Education, the UK's largest provider of school supply staff.

The growing use of teaching assistants to cover lessons led several teachers to complain last term that they were unable to get supply work and made agencies pessimistic about the future.

John Dunn, a director of Select, had expected fewer requests for temporary teachers after the introduction of compulsory planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time last September.

"We had been planning to focus more on finding permanent posts for teachers and supplying teaching assistants," he said.

"But now we're getting more demands from schools for temporary teachers than we can satisfy and we have had to turn down hundreds of bookings. It's a frustration for us that we can't find enough teachers."

Mr Dunn said schools may have made greater use of teaching assistants last term to cover lessons but then found it "unsustainable in the long-term"

when assistants refused to take on further responsibilities.

Timeplan, another supply agency, said it had noticed a similar pattern in demand and had also needed to turn down hundreds of booking requests.

Chris King, Timeplan's director of education, said: "I've been doing this job for 17 years and cannot explain it.

"It may be that schools are under greater pressure to ensure that the teachers who are taking lessons are specifically qualified in those subjects."

The National Union of Teachers said it felt the increase in demand was linked to a backlash against using teaching assistants to cover lessons, while the Association for School and College Leaders said it felt that high levels of illness were more likely to be the cause.

The locations with the greatest demand for supply staff seem to be those which traditionally have had a high teacher turnover, such as London and the South-east, rather than Wales and Cornwall where there are usually fewer vacancies.

But while some teachers have reported an upsurge in supply work, many have contacted The TES to say that they still cannot find employment.

Richard Cox, 52, has been searching for supply work in Cheshire since completing a return-to-teaching course in 2004.

He qualified with distinction as a teacher and worked in a primary school before spending 30 years teaching university students, including trainee teachers at Liverpool university.

But Dr Cox said that his supply agency had failed to find a single day's work in almost two years and that he had only been able to gain a few days'

work a month at schools where he made contacts himself.

"I cannot understand why this should be the case when I have indicated my willingness to travel and there are cries of teacher shortage," he said.

Schools in England spent more than pound;383 million on agency supply staff last year and a further pound;438 million on supply teachers they employed directly.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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