Forgotten & invisible: Time to end the daily exploitation of supply teachers

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
Dr Patrick Roach: "Supply agencies and umbrella companies are making millions at the expense of teachers and the taxpayer. That is the price of outsourcing teachers and it is wrong."

Supply agencies and umbrella companies are making millions at the expense of teachers. Dr Patrick Roach is spear-heading a campaign to end what he says is the exploitation of supply teachers


“Forgotten”, “invisible”, “second-class citizens, “treated like extras in a film”.

These are just some of the comments from NASUWT supply teacher members when we asked them to describe their experiences over the last year.

The bad practices already embedded within the employment system for supply teachers have been exacerbated during the pandemic to the point where we now have clear indications that rising numbers of supply teachers are walking away from the profession, broken and angry at the race to the bottom on pay, exploitation and poor working conditions. That trickle is set to become a flood unless something is done.

Even prior to the pandemic experienced supply teachers routinely reported the refusal of agencies to pay them to scale, often receiving rates below that of an NQT. This is on top of being denied access to rights such as sick pay, training and annual leave, and in many cases being forced to sign exploitative agreements with umbrella companies that tie them into a structure of complex fees and additional payments that drain their salaries still further.

Many agencies showed no loyalty or support to their registered supply teachers during the pandemic, with more than two-thirds of those surveyed by the NASUWT earlier this term reporting that the agencies they worked for refused to furlough them during the lockdowns (this survey is part of our annual supply teacher research programme and will be published soon – see further information).

It is not surprising that financial hardship is increasing among supply teachers. In our research, 54 per cent said they had experienced financial hardship this year, a rise of five per cent on last year’s survey.

Furthermore, 27 per cent had to source work outside of supply teaching this year in order to make ends meet. And there is growing evidence that supply teachers are leaving the profession at a time when they are most needed, because of job insecurity, poor treatment and low pay.

And it is not just agencies that are failing supply teachers. The failings are systemic, affecting privatised agencies, schools and local authorities, too. Nearly two-thirds of supply teachers said they were concerned about their health and safety while working in schools because no or little information, training or support was given to them with regard to safe working practices.

If anyone set out to design a system of employing teachers that routinely discriminates, the current market in supply teachers would be the blueprint.

We know that teachers with particular protected characteristics under the Equality Act are substantially more likely to be employed as supply teachers. And this means that Black teachers, women and disabled teachers who obtain work as supply teachers will be employed on less favourable conditions than teachers employed by schools and local authorities – on lower rates of pay with no right to access the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and with no entitlement to CPD.

Meanwhile, supply agencies and umbrella companies are making millions at the expense of teachers and the taxpayer. That is the price of outsourcing teachers and it is wrong.

Supply teachers are the backbone of the school system, yet the government has still not acted to tighten up the regulation of supply agencies or to provide decent rights and protections for supply teachers.

The NASUWT’s Supply Justice campaign is calling for government to step in and end the daily exploitation of supply teachers working in schools. We are calling for systemic change which will deliver decent employment standards and equal rights for supply teachers from day one, including:

  • Ensuring the direct employment of supply teachers by schools and an end to outsourcing.
  • A national pay and conditions framework for supply teachers which mirrors that of other teachers employed by schools.
  • Entitlements for supply teachers to progress automatically on the pay scale with length of experience.
  • Automatic rights to enrol in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
  • Rights to CPD, sick pay and redundancy.

If we want an education system that works for all children, government has to protect all teachers by ending the two-tier teacher workforce which leaves supply teachers as the poorest of relations.

Ministers have taken supply teachers for granted for too long. It is time they delivered on their promise to level-up.


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