Why we need to stop the use of private teaching agencies in Wales’ schools

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash.

Nicola Lund, part-time supply teacher

Schools in Wales are facing a budget crisis, and yet the use of private teaching agencies has rocketed in recent years.

Formerly, schools requiring cover teachers would employ regular supply teachers directly or would use local authority pools of suitably vetted and qualified staff.

However, some local authorities have closed down payroll facilities for temporary teachers and are actively pushing schools to use private teaching agencies. This is despite these agencies take hefty commissions from what schools pay them from their ever-decreasing budgets.

Why would local authorities do this? Because it absolves local authorities from paying pension and national insurance contributions and from paying teachers according to their scale. Teachers usually progress through the pay scale according to experience and responsibilities within schools.

Most recent figures show that schools in Wales spent a total of £40m on supply teachers during 2016/17. It is claimed that of this money up to £50 per day per teacher is going into agency coffers. This equates to £10k per teacher, per year.

Previously, Welsh Government had one preferred supplier of cover teachers. This agency last year came under fire for its ‘obscene’ payments to directors.

It is not even as if agencies are maintaining standards in education, hence the necessary introduction of the Welsh Government’s recent new Framework Agreement which is designed to promote greater scrutiny of agency practice.

However, the majority of agencies are still able to work outside this framework. It is still possible to be sent into schools without having undergone safeguarding training, a basic legal requirement.

Cover Supervisors need not be qualified teachers. They carry out supervision of pupils undertaking pre-prepared exercises. The role should not involve any teaching, marking or planning.

Despite this, it is common practice for secondary schools to employ agency cover supervisors to cover teacher absence.

 

Unfit

In Wales there are approximately 4,500 supply teachers. Many would rather accept a lower rate than their scale rate for day to day, short term cover as opposed to what they see as exploitation by agencies.

However, very often desperate supply teachers are having to accept work as cover supervisors and learning support assistants at far lower remuneration. As an agency worker the life of a supply teacher is far from ideal.

What can be done about this? Technological alternatives are available which in theory could eliminate this drain of school resources and better match schools to supply teachers. Alternatives would include apps or platforms like Teacherbooker.com.

Mounting pressure on Welsh Government has led to Cabinet Member Kirsty Williams to spend £2.7 million on a pilot project where clusters of schools employed pools of full time newly qualified supply teachers, similar to – yes, you have guessed it – the former method of direct employment.

The former method meant schools could employ regular cover teachers, ensuring continuity for children and for the supply teacher familiarity with the pupils, the school and its routines. This project ended in August 2019 and the findings are yet to be finalised and published.

In summary, it would appear that local authority cutbacks have led to fat cat agency gain and a lack of continuity and quality in cover for our children.

Has it taken £2.7 million to tell us what we already knew – that the current agency model is unethical and unfit for purpose?

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PaulA arlotteUndymumHuw DaviesJill o the South Recent comment authors
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Charles L. Gallagher
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Charles L. Gallagher

Hey, who gives a damn if ‘FAT CAT’ agencies are creaming off millions while children receive a 2nd even 3rd, or 4th class education! Also just look at how much similar agencies skim-off the Nursing Profession.

Undymum
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Undymum

…but I believe agency nurses get more than their scale point. Some teachers get less than half theirs…

A arlotte
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A arlotte

That’s a strange attitude

A prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg
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A prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg

How many young teachers must our teachers teach before the world’s thought of the taught who now teach?

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

Has anyone thought of Co Operative schools?
It may help us monitor what children are taught and attract the sort of teachers who wish to give?
I don’t insist, of course, but people must be very worried .

Jill o the South
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Jill o the South

There are 28 Private/Independent Schools in Wales all enjoying Charitable Status. Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour should be banging the drum to abolish Public Schools to level the playing field of Eton. Education has been privatised in Wales to all intents and purposes. Class sizes are too large for salaried teachers who face the threat of violent conduct on a daily basis, so what hope for a poorly paid supply teacher who is often ignored in the Staff room and given a timetable to just get on with firefighting.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

massive vicious circle in education which will only be solved if that circle is addressed at several points at same time. Big issues but by no means the only ones include: 1 creation of the talent pool and the methods/content of teacher training. There needs to be an indepth review of how graduate calibre talent is trained for teaching posts. One size fits all is not a sensible remedy in the modern context. 2 the commercialisation of education in the state sector with reliance on agency recruitment, temps etc which then perpetuate “dependency” and intensify it. School management or local… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

so now’s the chance to elect a Westminster Parliament who are interested in funding it’s national and local governments so they are no longer scrimping and saving – but that means getting rid of the tax cuts for the rich and austerity for the poor which has been followed for the last 9 years