Supply teachers in England and Wales are being exploited in the workplace, a teachers’ union claims.
The NASUWT says supply teachers are being denied entitlements on pay, pensions and working conditions.
The union calling for urgent action to regulate all supply agencies and introduce national standards for the employment of supply teachers.
The Department for Education said there were “clear laws” to ensure agencies treated their staff fairly.
“Supply teachers form a valued part of the teaching profession. The flexibility they offer is important in allowing schools to meet their teaching needs and we trust schools to use them appropriately. There are clear laws in place to ensure supply agencies treat their staff fairly.”
In a union questionnaire, many supply teachers spoke of a lack of respect and no support with professional training.
Of the 942 supply teachers who took part in an NASUWT survey about supply work, nearly two thirds (65%) said they were not paid at a level that recognised their experience.
The union also found:
- nearly two thirds of teachers (61%) said they had not had access to training and professional development opportunities
- half (50%) of supply teachers believed they are used to cover the lessons of difficult pupils
- 91% said they were not always given appropriate information to support them when they enter the school for the first time.
- over half (58%) had experienced problems getting work, with 2% not being able to get work at all
- more than four in ten (43%) said there had been a decline in the number of days per week they have been able to secure work as a supply teacher in the last year
- seven in ten teachers working for supply agencies said they did so because this was their only route to obtaining work.
The survey also found some teachers turned to supply teaching in the hope of escaping the demands placed on contracted roles.
Of those teachers leaving contracted roles for supply work more than two thirds (69%) were hoping to achieve a better work life balance, 62% wanted to escape the excessive workload, and four in 10 (40%) want to achieve greater flexibility.
Supply teachers’ comments
“I find that the biggest problem I encounter in schools on a daily basis is the attitude of pupils to supply teachers.
“Very often I experience a total lack of respect as a teacher from pupils, this consequently leads to continual disruption of the lesson, rude and insolent attitudes from the pupils, answering back, refusal to comply with instructions and on occasions foul language, this list of pupils behaviour is not exhaustive!
“This makes me feel totally demoralised, distressed and at the end of the school day mentally exhausted.”
“As an NQT [newly qualified teacher] I have little or no support from the larger supply agencies in terms of mentors or CPD [continuing professional development], I also have no support in a school and the school is never made aware that I am an NQT.
“When I have asked to not be sent to certain schools due to behaviour being out of control or bullying the agencies often withhold work for a few days or make me feel uncomfortable in requesting support or to not be sent to a certain school.
“The agency staff rarely have experience of teaching and do not understand the issues I bring to them. If I do get CPD I must take a day unpaid, as well as pay for any courses I wish to attend.”
“I am very concerned that I am unable to contribute to the Teacher’s Pension scheme as a supply teacher, which seriously undermines my future retirement.”
“I regularly feel like I am thrown in at the deep end, even with years of experience and subject knowledge. I meet so many amazing teachers along the way who chose to do supply for a work-life balance.
“We accept poor pay and poor treatment because it’s a last ditch attempt to do what we love, without enduring the impossible workload and inflexible ‘non-family friendly’ demands put upon us.”
A spokesman from the DfE said supply teachers form a “valued part” of the teaching profession.
“The flexibility they offer is important in allowing schools to meet their teaching needs and we trust schools to use them appropriately. There are clear laws in place to ensure supply agencies treat their staff fairly.”
But NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said supply teaching was a tough job, made harder by exploitation and poor employment practices.
“Supply teachers are a vital resource for schools especially in the light of the current recruitment and retention crisis,” she said.
“Yet the poor treatment of supply teachers is unfortunately entirely representative of the unacceptable employment practices which are found in too many workplaces across the country and which the government fails to address.
“It is therefore a sad indictment of the pressures on teachers in schools that increasing numbers are choosing supply teaching to seek relief from the excessive workload, lack of work/life balance and denial of flexible working opportunities.”