I was proud to speak at the rally before the NUT lobby of supply agencies earlier this week. I've been asked to post up the speech I made, so here it is:
Good morning everyone, and welcome to what I hope will be the first in a series of lobbies of rip-off supply teacher agencies.
My name is Bridget Chapman and I’m Chair of the NUT Supply Teacher Network, a group of supply teachers working within the NUT to highlight the appalling working conditions of supply teachers and to push for measures to improve the situation.
First of all can I say that this is not just an issue that affects supply teachers. The amounts of money being siphoned out of the education system by these agencies are huge, and that is money that isn’t being spent on education but is instead lining the pockets of fat cat agency bosses. At a time when education budgets are facing further drastic cuts this is of greater concern than ever before.
Agencies will charge schools as much as possible – often in the region of £250 a day – while seeking to maximise profits by paying teachers as little as possible. I have personally been rung up by an agency and offered just £60 for the day. That difference, between what the schools are charged, and what teachers are paid isn’t benefitting teachers and it isn’t benefitting students. It is public money into private pockets. It is a scandal!
And of course the government is currently legislating, through the draconian and anti-democratic trade union bill to use supply teachers to break strikes. Well let us send a clear message now. All teachers, regardless of employment status, stand together. We will not be used to undermine strike action.
Supply teachers are on the receiving end of relentless poor publicity and negative judgement from the national media. All supply teachers are, in fact, qualified, experienced teachers; often working in schools where there are significant problems and high staff turnover.
Agencies do not pay into the Teachers' Pension Scheme. Teachers working through agencies are actually barred from access to it. We have a ludicrous situation where a teacher at Eton has access to the Teachers Pension Scheme, and a supply teacher doing vital work every day in a state school is barred. Let the injustice of that sink in for a moment.
We are increasingly employed on long-term placements, in restrictive contracts, with no access to sick pay, maternity pay, holiday pay, and subject to dismissal without notice. There is now a hidden, privatised layer of teachers in our schools, which is further dividing and undermining our profession by casualising the workforce.
We have less chance of being employed full time due to prohibitive agency transfer fees. These exorbitant finders or introduction fees of four to five figure sums are charged by agencies, creating a barrier to finding permanent, sustainable employment.
Furthermore, an increasing number of NQTs work for up to five years as supply teachers. If they are unable to find a post suitable for induction, they are forced to leave the teaching profession.
In many areas of the UK, schools have no choice but to do business with agencies as there is no alternative source for temporary staff.
So what can be done?
We believe that the NUT should urge local government to establish a central register of supply teachers which would be publicly accountable, non-profit making, paying teachers to scale, with access to TPS. Schools would thus be able to hire supply and temporary staff directly as is already the model of practice in Northern Ireland.
We all need to be working locally after the lobby, writing to LEAs, MPs and school governors, letters to newspapers, social media, interest groups like mumsnet etc.
We need to ensure that supply teachers are co-opted onto NUT branch committees as supply rep. Every branch needs a supply rep. Every one.
We need to support the NUT Supply Teacher Network priority motion for Conference, get the word out and keep the pressure up. More people are realising that this issue affects us all. More supply teachers are realising they are not alone. Make them feel that they are valued by the Union even if their employers are ripping everyone off.
Stand up for education. Stand up for our profession. Stand up for supply teachers!