Supply staff reel from attack on terms

20th May 2011 at 01:00
Plans for a two-tier pay scale and time limits on payable work mean the position of teachers working on supply is about to get even more precarious.

Supply teachers are under fire. Changes to their pay and conditions from August will create even deeper insecurity for an already vulnerable group. They will lead to a two-tier workforce and a siphoning of talent as experienced teachers depart in search of more stable careers, warn critics.

One of the most controversial clauses in the revised national agreement on teachers' pay and conditions will cut supply teachers' rate of pay for the first five days they are employed.

From next session, short-term supply teachers will be paid at point one of the pay scale (pound;25,716) for the first five days of any deployment, and for a maximum of 25 hours (comprising 22.5 hours' class-contact and 2.5 hours set aside for preparation and correction, pro-rated for those who work less than a full week).

In the past, supply teachers were treated on a par with permanent teachers, entitled to be paid for a 35-hour week, including non-contact time and - depending on their length of service - up to point six (pound;34,200) of the unpromoted scale.

The new deal, backed narrowly by members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), has provoked threats of legal action by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association and the NASUWT.

Eddie*, a supply teacher based in Glasgow, told TESS that the agreement was causing "real resentment" and was a sign that short-term supply staff were "simply not valued".

"If local authorities are treating you as a second-class citizen, there's a danger that may affect the attitudes of pupils too - possibly leading to more discipline problems," he says.

"In some respects you're doing a more difficult job (than permanent teachers), suddenly picking up someone else's regime and learning as you go."

He foresees "the knowledge that you're being paid 47 per cent less than the teacher in the next-door classroom" fuelling tensions in schools.

The pay cuts, proposed originally by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and backed by the Scottish Government, could have the effect of "rapidly diminishing the pool of available supply teachers", leaving schools "unable to find cover, so pupils may be sent home", he predicts.

It's a claim rejected by John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

"At a time when local authorities are reducing the number of teachers that they employ, there may actually be more teachers available," he says. "So supply remains a good route into teaching."

Mr Stodter also challenges the claim that creating a division between short-term and long-term supply teachers is unjust. He says that most teachers working full-time recognise that in many cases short-term supply work "doesn't involve the same level of monitoring and additional work".

"Teachers are pragmatic and willing to accept that the work of short-term supply teachers might be of less value," he says.

The EIS "could be praised for showing leadership" in negotiating a difficult settlement over pay, he adds. "It wants this resolved and out of the way so it can concentrate on the really big issue - the McCormac review of teachers' employment."

Drew Morrice, assistant secretary at the EIS, argues that failure to reach an agreement would have put supply teachers in a more insecure position. It would have "inflicted circumstances where supply teachers had no subsisting contracts, allowing councils to offer work on whatever terms and pay, and for whatever duration they chose - with the supply teacher having to take it or leave it".

In the absence of an agreement, a further 2,800 jobs would have been lost, he says. But he is in no doubt about the impact of the deal: it will create a "two-tier workforce".

So, how can supply teachers be better represented and supported?

A 2004 report produced by Professor Ian Menter of Glasgow University recommended the introduction of a national framework for the recruitment, deployment and employment of temporary staff, and a national database of supply teachers.

The EIS argues that permanent supply pools would provide greater certainty in work opportunities, but only Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, East Dunbartonshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, and North and South Lanarkshire confirmed to TESS that they had permanent supply banks.

In its submission to the McCormac review, the EIS stresses the urgent need to find "a more effective way of providing supply" and points out that, despite a recommendation in the Report of the Teacher Employment Working Group (Scottish Government, October 2008), that all councils should reconsider permanent supply posts, some councils have terminated such posts.

TESS requests to councils for information on whether they have a pool of registered supply teachers - and if so, what size - confirmed the dearth of relevant, up-to- date statistics, a reflection perhaps of how the workforce is regarded in some authorities.

A recent Freedom of Information request from the Scottish Conservatives' education spokeswoman Liz Smith, set out to establish the number of full- time vacancies that had been filled by those on the supply teaching register. The response - from 13 authorities able to provide comprehensive data - revealed how few supply teachers succeed in getting classroom teacher posts. In 2007-08 only 192 out of 3,336 posts were given to supply teachers, with 776 filled by probationers.

On that basis alone, supply teachers might ask if teaching remains a viable career option. Tom Hamilton, director of education policy at the General Teaching Council for Scotland, believes some people enter the career in pursuit of flexibility in employment and so may be happy with supply teaching, but the majority want full-time, permanent employment - and that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

He believes it is important to "differentiate between motivation and morale".

"Individual teacher motivation through professionalism may well remain high, but morale across the profession is liable to fall if teachers perceive a lack of support for what they do," he says.

Those supply teachers who spoke to TESS appeared to bear out his concerns: they had motivation, but dwindling morale.

Mark*, a supply teacher working in Fife schools, said his experience was on a "spectrum", and shaped by "whether staff are supportive, the attitudes of the management, expectations of pupils and the culture of schools".

He channels his ire at the "pusillanimous" EIS for too readily agreeing to the deal. He says that the agreement reflects a failure to recognise "just how challenging it is to go into a school you may not know and teach a class at an hour's notice".

The split between the fortunes and self-esteem enjoyed by short and long- term supply teachers is exemplified by Lucy*, who provides long-term cover at an Edinburgh secondary. She feels involved in the school community and has built up a rapport with her pupils.

She says that not being a member of staff allows her to be "liberated from the politics of the school". But prior to her current contract, she frequently worked single days and had low expectations of what could be achieved. "You've had a good day if all the pupils are safe and nobody has been injured," she says.

Many supply teachers bolster their income with other work. Gillian*, who began a long-term contract at a secondary in Dundee in January, is an actor in her spare time.

For her, the quality of school leadership defines whether a supply teacher enjoys their job. "The heads I've come into contact with over 12 years of supply teaching have generally been fantastic - and always respectful. Simple things like remembering your name and smiling and saying hello in the corridor really make a big difference," she says.

Gillian sees an "absolutely clear distinction" between short and long-term supply, and is one of the few supply teachers to whom TESS spoke who believes that a differential pay rate could be fair.

* Names of supply teachers have been changed

English model

South of the border, the majority of supply is delivered either through classroom assistants with enhanced roles or private agencies, who take "absolutely no account" of nationally agreed terms and conditions, according to EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice.

"Local authorities hand the supply contract to the agency, which then employs the supply teachers for the duration of the engagement," he says.

"This leads to differential practice, and means agencies can pay substantially lower rates."

He fears the new teachers' deal could ultimately see local authorities in Scotland emulating the English model. The agreement will "balance the books" in the immediate future, but "risks educational quality" and brings a "market forces approach" to teaching another step closer.

Case study: `You can be treated like a nothing'

Until a few days ago, Shona McAlpine worked as a supply teacher at St Andrew's Secondary, in the east end of Glasgow.

The 32-year-old computing teacher had been employed since last August and enjoyed being able to make a "more significant contribution" to the school and "bonding with the pupils". But council contracts for temporary supply teachers in Glasgow ended on 15 May to prevent supply teachers gaining employment rights through a year's continuous employment. Morale among her supply colleagues "plunged" as they approached the termination date, she says.

Overall, staff and headteachers at schools where she has worked have been "very positive and supportive".

However, she has experienced a sharp divide between attitudes to long-term and short-term supply. "Sometimes if you go into a school for just one day you can be treated like you're nothing," she says.

Although enthusiastic about computing, Ms McAlpine has also taught home economics, maths and English and feels "completely confident" about switching between the subjects. Between supply stints, she maintains her income by working at a bar.

Being registered to provide cover for classroom teachers who are ill or have a family emergency means "getting up every day primed to receive a phone call". As a non-driver, reaching schools in time by public transport is a problem, and she frequently has to resort to taxis.

Ms McAlpine is "angry and very disappointed" about the cut to supply teachers' pay. "They've basically said we are no more than crowd control," she says, and predicts that many supply teachers who were near the top of the pay scale will "opt out" and move into other careers.

"I'm thinking of leaving teaching unless things change and there are better prospects for supply teachers - and at the moment I just can't see that happening," she adds.

The old hands: Proportion of supply pool who are retired teachers

27% Aberdeenshire

40% Angus

24% Argyll amp; Bute

56% Borders

12% East Ayrshire

28% Midlothian

20% Orkney

9% South Ayrshire

Source: TESS survey

- TESS forum: `working rotten hours or for free'

Supply teachers will get paid for 30 minutes a day to do all preparation and marking, so here's hoping the sick teacher has left detailed work to fill the day. The supply teacher has one minute per child (in a class of 30) to do all the marking. laupante

- I've spent three years trying to carve out a career, working rotten hours or for free, all to try and get enough supply to get experience, do what I love and stay financially afloat. I have been in the same school on long-term supply stints for three years and there are a few retirements coming up. I felt I had a decent shot at it, but now these posts will go to probationers - how is this fair? rosey21

- I am a primary supply teacher and cover mainly odd days and half days. I seldom get non-contact time. If it is timetabled for the teacher I am covering, for example a music or PE specialist, I am sent elsewhere. If it is covered by a non-contact teacher, they are sent elsewhere. I gave up saying I was entitled to it (as is stated in supply handbook) after one head took me off her supply list. Therefore I am teaching for the full five hours and will have no time for prep or marking. mim58

`Added value': the headteachers' view

Audrey May, St John's Academy, Perth and Kinross

Our business manager sources supply teachers for us. We usually find them through local knowledge and word of mouth - asking the local authority is actually the last resort.

As for judging suitability, the principal teachers would often get pupils' feedback and ask what they think. If it's a specialist subject teacher, we absolutely expect them to do the job to the same standards of a classroom teacher - particularly when it's long-term supply. But even short-term supply teachers are professionals; they're not viewed as babysitters.

The impact of the pay change will probably be very little - probationers want to keep their hand in, so they can one day get a permanent job.

But in this financial climate, there's a possibility some schools could abuse the new system. They might just give supply teachers a run of five- day contracts - short bursts to save money, rather than a longer-term commitment.

Ian Adair, Whitburn Academy, West Lothian

There's not usually any problem sourcing supply teachers. Turnaround for getting them into the school varies, but usually it's remarkably quick - between half-an-hour to 90 minutes.

It's a two-way relationship - if they demonstrate an interest in the school, we're more interested in engaging with them. The council is fairly candid about alerting us to some people out there who may be unsuitable.

For supply teachers doing single days, it's cover. They're there to do a job at the drop of a hat. But a long-term supply teacher can definitely bring something extra and can get involved in the wider life of the school. It's good for them and their progression.

I don't have a problem that those here for longer are going to be paid at a higher rate. But, equally, the contribution of those who come in with half-an-hour's notice must be recognised - they get you out of a difficult situation.

Frances Murray - The Nicolson Institute, Stornoway, Western Isles

We're the only sixth-year secondary on the island, so we often have first call on getting subject-specific supply teachers. But there can be shortages in the Western Isles; there might be a specialist within the authority, but based on another island. On occasions we've had to reorganise timetables and classes as we wait for the supply teacher to get here.

There's a pool of people we're able to draw on and we alert the local authority as to who we want. The vast majority of regulars we use are retired. There are a few who've worked at Nicolson's in the past, and a couple of erstwhile probationers who haven't found permanent jobs.

Obviously supply teachers are there to provide cover, but frequently retired teachers bring in years of experience, and those who have just finished probation are highly enthusiastic - so that's a good mix and it gives the school added value.

Derek Law, Craiglock-hart Primary, Edinburgh

My experience of supply teachers has been extremely positive. We use the Blue Arrow agency to get cover, and that's been very effective, though I know some headteacher colleagues who have had difficulties.

If it's just one person off sick, it's usually a fast turnaround, but it can take longer to organise if we have staff away doing CPD courses. The pupils' response to a supply teacher coming in is usually very enthusiastic; we do encourage a welcoming atmosphere in our school.

Some headteacher colleagues have expressed concerns about the consistency of quality of supply teachers, but that has fortunately not been my experience. We're lucky at Craiglockhart that we have a small batch of teachers we can regularly call on. I feel it is very important that supply teachers can feel included and part of our team whenever possible.

Original headline: `Second-class citizens': supply staff reel from attack on terms


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