Thursday, 29 October 2015

Supply Teachers- next steps in the Agency campaign- and a reminder of how we actually got here !

NUT members staged a great lobby of the main supply teachers' agencies yesterday. While I couldn't be there in person, I am proud that East Sussex was represented.  I have long campaigned for supply members' rights (even before it became "mainstream" in the Union...) and my Division was one of the first to hold Supply Teacher training, which I organised.  (OK, end of own-trumpet-blowing...)

East Sussex NUT Postcard 2007
One of the first campaigns I had to fight on becoming Division Secretary was to try and save the supply pool in the local authority. This had already been semi-outsourced: an agency (Hays) had a contract to manage the list placing of supply staff for which they received a commission. The staff were still employed on the County payroll, at the appropriate rate and pension contribution.

Hays wanted to get out of this arrangement- presumably to have the ability to pay teachers less, and, in particular, not to have to include pension contributions. East Sussex NUT lobbied council officers and elected members- with hundreds of postcards proclaiming "Teachers' Pay for a Teacher's Day"

We didn't persuade the Authority to keep the supply arrangement.  They maintained that staff could still be on LA payroll and approach schools direct, but there would be no pool or list.  Clearly the other Agencies were already muscling in....

I LIKE LUCY (...but....)
I have been a Labour Party supporter for over 20 years, and it heartens me that the  front bench is finally saying many of the same things as the NUT.  Lucy Powell is potentially the best Labour education spokesperson we have had since before the Blair era- certainly in terms of agreeing with the Union on policy.  She gave support to the Lobby yesterday, linking it with the campaign on teacher recruitment saying:
"Supply teachers play an important role in our education system. However, we are seeing a teacher shortage crisis in our schools which means that head teachers are turning to agencies in desperation to fill the gap...."
Unfortunately, she's wrong.... on at least one thing:

The move towards using expensive agencies is not the result of head teachers "turning [to agencies] in desperation"   Head Teachers and local authorities were complicit- intentionally or otherwise-  in the takeover of supply by the agencies, when there were still many established supply lists and pools. 

My East Sussex colleagues and I were campaigning on supply years ago, and we well remember when the Agencies started to get a grip.  Schools were visited by sales reps, promising them all manner of support and services, but the bottom line of this was that it would be cheaper than paying supply teachers through payroll.  Glossy brochures, mugs, pens, coasters-  all branded with the agency's corporate colours and logos became commonplace in every school office.

Many East Sussex supply colleagues found that their supply work dried up. I know of a number of supply teachers who stopped getting supply, practically overnight,  from schools that had used them for years. They were now deemed  too expensive.  Some were told that the school was "only going through the agency"  Those that did eventually succumb to signing with the agency often found that their daily rate dropped- in some cases by in the region of 50%.   Many others left supply teaching altogether- especially those who were UPS teachers, and brought years of experience to the classroom. Gone.

So why am I singling those words of Lucy's comment out ? Why (as a VP candidate who wants to improve communication with our NUT Heads and leaders) am I seemingly having a go at Head Teachers ?

No head teacher had to use agencies when this began: but there is still no reason why supply staff cannot be given a payroll number and paid properly, with pension contributions, by schools. We need to campaign to change the assumption at school leadership level, that agencies are where supply cover has to come from.

And I'm sorry to those who are members, but Head Teachers who were in post ten, eight, even five years ago who took the agency shilling were not just complicit, but to some degree driving the Agency rip-off, on the promise of a few quid off the daily rate and a glossy mug.  Our members lost money and  blocks of pensionable service as a result of those decisions. Many have been lost to the supply teacher workforce forever as a result of those decisions.

What next ?
  • On top of the excellent lobbying and political work, the Union needs to make quite clear to our leadership members themselves,  school reps and NUT members who are school governors, that schools are not required to use Supply Agencies. Schools should be encouraged to build relationships with good supply teachers and to pay them directly.
  • We need to use the Freedom of Information Act, not just to expose the scale  of Agency costs to individual schools, and also to identify schools that are using high levels of unqualified staff to cover absence- another threat to our supply members. 
  • We need to look at how we can support and resource our supply members who want to approach schools directly.  We should also explore how we could  provide practical support to NUT heads who would like to engage more direct supply 
  • Also- although it is a legal minefield- we need to be willing to look at legal cases we can take on for Supply members who are being "tied" to an agency, for instance where they are prevented from working directly in schools if they have previously been on an agency's books.  The agencies are massive companies with lots of resources and clever lawyers, but the NUT is a massive union with clever lawyers too.  
  • The NAHT is now a member of the TUC.  They should be invited to give guidance to their head teacher members about their options in engaging supply members, and as our TUC sister union, the ethical and moral implications of choosing rip-off agencies. 

There are a number of motions being considered on Supply teachers for next year's Annual Conference- please support these in your Associations.

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