Supply 'means sub-class'

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Unions accuse lucrative agencies of exploiting teachers and short-changing schools

PROFIT-MAKING recruitment agencies are exploiting teachers on their books with poor pay and no pension or sick-pay schemes, it was claimed this week.

UCAC, the Welsh-language education union, has called for an investigation into alleged ill-treatment of supply teachers, saying it was creating a "sub-class of teachers". And its battle cry has been backed by other unions, which say supply teaching must be returned to local authority control.

Gruff Hughes, general secretary at UCAC, said the treatment of some of his members by agencies had been "unacceptable" as companies competed with rivals by offering "cheap labour".

He claimed some of his member teachers were paid as little as pound;55 to pound;90 per day before tax. John Gimblett, a supply teacher currently working at a Newport primary school, said: "I've just started doing agency work again and I get paid less than three years ago."

Mr Hughes is now waiting for a response from Alan Johnson, England's Education Secretary, to his demand for an inquiry.

The role of recruitment agencies has grown over the past 10 years as LAs no longer offer their own pool of tried-and-tested teachers. The TES reported earlier this year (February 2) that schools across the UK were being forced into using poor-quality supply teachers.

The growth in the market meant that, by the end of 2005, one Welsh recruitment agency had 1,500 registered teachers, providing for up to 50 schools in Wales and parts of Bristol.

But heads often complain supply teachers are sub-standard and ill-prepared, often not lasting for more than a few hours in some schools. However Gary Williams, managing director of Cardiff-based recruitment agency New Directions, denied exploitation.

"We put people in the shop window and it often leads to permanent jobs," he said. "We even offer training, and help teachers to apply for General Teaching Council for Wales funding."

Mr Williams said his company, which has just won a contract to supply teachers to Rhondda Cynon Taf and Caerphilly, had offered to make pension contributions but was told it couldn't.

Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said supply teaching should not become "privatisation by stealth". "The Assembly government needs a state-run supply network," he said.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said the Assembly government was pursuing a quality-mark scheme for supply agencies in Wales.

"The government agrees with recommendations in the latest School Teachers'

Review Body report on part-time teachers and the need for their pay to be calculated equitably and transparently.

"It is up to schools whether they use short-term or supply teachers."

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