In a bid to help schools get a better deal when it comes to hiring supply staff, the government is planning to set up a pool of trusted recruitment agencies.
A framework is being developed by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the government’s procurement arm, with a tender expected in January. However, serious doubts are being raised as to whether the move goes far enough.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, says that, under the plans, trade bodies representing recruitment agencies will be in charge of “policing” themselves. She says: “Rather than that being independently monitored by people at CCS or the Department for Education, they’re potentially saying that will be monitored by people like the REC and APSCo, who are trade bodies representing the interests of the recruitment sector.
“We think that is fundamentally flawed because they’ve got a conflict of interests in terms of policing a system, which has lots of their members on it. We don’t think that’s been thought through very well.”
But one of the trade bodies disputes that it will be monitoring the industry under the framework.
Richard Sagar, policy adviser at the REC, says that the framework contains a requirement for agencies to be accredited by the REC or other bodies.
“Setting such a threshold for conduct and compliance means schools can rest assured they are dealing with the most professional agencies,” he says. “It doesn’t mean the REC is monitoring the framework itself. We understand it will be independently monitored.”
'More than a framework'
However, Andrew Morris, assistant general secretary of the NEU teaching union, says the framework still does not go far enough to allay the union’s worries about the industry.
“We wanted something more than a framework,” Morris explains. “We want to remove the role of agencies in the sector.”
The framework does not place a cap on agency fees, set a minimum salary for teachers, or remove finders’ fees, he says.
The NEU is in favour of something more closely related to the supply market model in Northern Ireland. This involves an online register that puts schools in touch with workers. “The cost of participation is minimal, schools get paid more and schools pay less,” says Morris.
Meanwhile, Keates says that there is nothing she has seen in the CCS’s plans “that will address the pressing need for supply teachers to have better conditions”, such as better pay and access to teachers’ pensions.
“If you talk to CCS, they’ve been employed by the DfE and the whole idea around how they’re working and operating is to give a better service to the customer – the customer is not the supply teacher, the customer is the school – and schools will probably be saying they’re looking to drill down their cost.”
Sagar says that REC would be open to pensions being part of the framework.
“But that’s a decision for the government and Teachers’ Pensions and isn’t within the scope of this framework,” he says.
Nick Bowles, head of stakeholder engagement at the APSCo, points to the Compliance+ standard on ethical behaviour that it developed with the profession, including the NAHT headteachers’ union and NASUWT.
He says: “We created the Compliance+ standard so that our members have to go above and beyond just basic statutory requirements to demonstrate that they are behaving ethically, honestly and responsibly.”
The DfE declined an interview with Tes about the framework. A spokesperson says: “The framework is being designed to reduce the costs to schools and ensure agencies working with schools and supply teachers adhere to good standards of practice.”
The parent company of Tes magazine owns three teacher supply agencies