Most teachers returning to work this term will have the relative security a permanent job brings. However, an increasing number of teachers cannot find regular work, and their only teaching option is to work as a supply teacher.
I know that some teachers choose to do supply teaching, but many struggle to find a permanent teaching post after taking a career break to raise their family, so see supply teaching as a way of gaining up-to-date experience and showing prospective employers what they can do.
And, for an increasing number of teachers, supply teaching offers a way to top-up their earnings if they cannot get a full-time post.
Regrettably a supply teacher’s lot is not always a happy one. In addition to the uncertainty of whether there will be any work available, they face variability in pay.
Up until the end of August supply teachers employed directly by a school or local authority were protected by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, which at least ensured the amount they were paid had to reflect their experience.
However, from this September, with the end to the automatic portability of pay points when changing schools, this protection has gone. Instead, schools will be allowed to ignore the wealth of experience supply teachers could bring to the school when setting salaries, and simply hire at the bottom of the pay range.
Schools are increasingly turning to supply agencies to provide temporary staff when a teacher is on maternity leave or off sick, as this is the easiest way to cover an absence.
The pay for teachers employed through agencies is not governed by the statutory pay scales but determined by the agency based on market rates. Following the introduction of the Agency Workers Regulations in 2010, the terms and conditions for agency staff have improved. After 12 weeks working at the same school, they are now entitled to the same conditions as other staff at that school.
However, the Agency Workers Regulations have proved a double-edged sword in other areas of education. In further education, lecturers employed by agencies have gained employment rights, and have therefore become more expensive for colleges to employ.
As a result, some further education colleges have turned to zero hours contracts. Instead of using agency staff, colleges are directly employing some staff on zero hours contracts. These contracts give no guarantee of work and also mean lecturers miss out on any rights they would accrue as agency staff under the Agency Workers Regulations.
I am very worried that the use of zero-hour contracts will spread to schools if the government does not address the genuine concerns over their use soon.
We want supply teachers to be recognised as playing a vital role in the education jigsaw. They provide a trained and experienced reserve when schools need additional teachers.
It is unrealistic to expect that a pupil’s regular teacher will always be available to teach his or her class. As well as time off because of illness, if we want a professional and well-trained teaching workforce it is essential that teachers are also given time out of the classroom for professional development activities and training.
We want a supply teachers’ charter to ensure there are enough of them available when needed and that they are adequately rewarded for their work.
We want an agreement to pay supply teachers a decent wage when they are working, an end to finders’ fees if schools decide to retain the services of a supply teacher, and supply teachers to be given access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
We will be pushing the government and schools to agree a charter as soon as possible.
Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk