Increasing supply teachers’ pay has been repeatedly ruled out by councils, but primary staff believe it is the only way to solve teacher shortages, a new survey finds.
One of the biggest challenges facing primary school headteachers is the amount of time that they spend covering classes because they cannot get supply staff, says Greg Dempster, general secretary of school leaders’ organisation the AHDS.
In a bid to solve Scotland’s teacher shortage problem, he suggested that teachers’ preparation time should be scrapped and that they should work an extra 2.5 hours per week, with their pay rising accordingly (see page 6-7).
However, when the AHDS surveyed primary school leaders and teachers to gauge support for the proposal, the body also asked for other suggestions to combat the issue.
Among the more than 2,500 responses they received, there was “a very strong focus on calls to reinstate full pay for supply teachers”, Mr Dempster told TESS.
Supply teachers’ pay has been a contentious issue since a deal in 2011 tied them to a significantly lower daily rate unless they worked for more than five consecutive days – later reduced to more than two days (see box, “Wrong to agree to pay deal”). It was claimed in the survey that some supply teachers were now working in supermarkets because they could earn more.
Mr Dempster said: “While AHDS supported the introduction of a different level of pay for supply teachers when it was introduced, we agree that it was the wrong move and that consideration should now be given to reinstating previous arrangements.”
Responding to the AHDS survey, one school leader commented that they had to cover classes so often they were “unable to do their other duties”. The school found it impossible to get anyone to do “even one day of supply”, said the respondent.
The leader wrote: “Last week, I taught four out of five days due to staff sickness.”
Other primary staff – from heads to classroom teachers – said that, at the current rate of pay, it was hardly worth supply teachers “getting out of bed”, especially if they were going to incur travel expenses or had childcare costs to cover. One respondent claimed that councils “worked the system” to ensure they never paid supply teachers more than the minimum amount.
Several teachers commented that supply teachers were working in Tesco and other shops, rather than in the classroom.
“I don’t believe that there is a shortage of supply teachers; I believe that there is a shortage of supply teachers that will work supply for the rate offered,” said one teacher. “I personally know supply teachers who are working in stores and other places knowing that they will be financially better off.”
TESS revealed last month that the vast majority of councils were facing a desperate struggle to cover classes (“Supply teaching crisis ‘worse than ever before’”, 8 April).
The situation was worse at primary, where 28 out of 32 authorities said they were finding it “very difficult” or “difficult” to find enough supply cover. Some 24 councils also said that the situation was deteriorating.
A spokesman for local authorities umbrella body Cosla conceded that pay might be a factor when it came to the supply teacher shortage, but argued that it was too simplistic to say this was the only explanation.
Workforce planning was at the root of the problem, he argued.
However, in “very acute circumstances”, councils could pay higher than the nationally agreed rate, the spokesman said.
He added: “Even the teaching unions now accept that pay is only one element of several in a complex mix resulting in non-availability of supply teachers in certain areas and subjects.”
This year, the Scottish government increased the number of places on initial teacher education programmes for the fifth year in a row. However, a TESS investigation in December revealed that hundreds of teacher-training places at universities were going unfilled (“Shortage fears intensify as trainee numbers falter”, 11 December ).
‘Wrong to agree pay deal’
The controversial 2011 supply teacher pay deal led to hundreds of teachers leaving Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, in protest at the deterioration in supply teachers’ pay and conditions.
The deal meant that experienced teachers’ rate of pay dropped to the bottom of the scale if they were doing five days of supply or fewer. And they no longer had paid time to plan lessons or do marking. The EIS – like the AHDS – has since conceded it was wrong to agree the deal and has fought to have supply teachers’ pay and conditions reinstated.
In 2014, the unions succeeded in having the period for which supply teachers receive the reduced rate cut from five days to two. And last year, as part of the teachers’ pay deal, a letter went out to councils saying that they could choose to pay supply teachers at the full daily rate from the first day of work.
Supply in Scotland – what’s going on?
Views on the supply teacher situation from the TESS forum:
“Once upon a time, working as a supply teacher in Scotland was nearly always a worthwhile experience both financially and ‘spiritually’ (for want of a better word), but that’s all changed. There is a contempt and spite against supply teachers from some quarters that did not exist 10 years ago.
“At a time of unprecedented rates of (understandable) absenteeism among permanent staff it’s all the more shocking to be treated quite so badly and still be subjected to the ‘we can’t get supply teachers’ mantra. The reasons why are blindingly obvious.”
“I’ve been a supply teacher for years. Apparently, I’m an in demand subject. Strange that my door isn’t being beaten down. The budgets are so tight, the local authorities are not bothering to look for supply staff, and schools think there are none of us left. It’s a farce.”