Bringing down the cost of supply teachers

The increasing cost of supply teachers has become a real issue; here Baljinder Kuller of The Supply Register explains why the costs have risen, and what schools can do about it. 

Education Magazine Supply teachers have become much more expensive in recent years, what are the reasons behind this?

Baljinder Kuller Back in the early nineties, schools could go to the local education authority and request cover from their own run pool. In those days it was almost ideal as schools could choose between their local authority or the local recruitment agency. That meant that there was healthy competition. The benefits of the local authority pool to teachers was that they were paid to scale and had contributions made to their teacher pension pot so had a good number of available staff. Though they were not as quick to react as the agency which could be contacted at any time (at 6am for example) and have a candidate that was ready packaged and fully compliant into the classroom at 9am. This situation worked while the local authorities had £500 million of the available spend, however agencies now have three quarters of the market. Of the £1.3bn spent this academic year, only £300 million will be spent with schools’ own networks of teachers while most of the rest of it goes to the agencies. Only a small portion, 6% will go to local authority run pools.

It’s well known that a shortage of any particular skill will increase its cost and the same rule applies to supply teachers. And when local authorities reduced their supply teacher service it meant that the independent agencies could charge more.

Recruitment agencies are able to spend much more on marketing. For every teacher a school advertises for they will get one application, but an agency will be able to present five to them and it is that volume that schools generally can’t compete with. Recruitment agencies reflect this in their fees claiming that they have to do more, in reality they do not have to do any more work than they did 10 years ago.

EM Is this true for temporary and permanent staff?

BK I refer specifically to temporary staff however we are also aware that the agency involvement in the permanent marketplace continues to grow mainly because executive search companies have now come into the marketplace. As a result, we are seeing more fees being charged for what is ultimately a headhunting role. We are also seeing temp to perm fees of up £15k can be charged to schools even when a candidate has worked at the school for the best part of an academic term.

EM What about academies and multi academy trusts? Does this affect them more than the LEA run schools?

BK The Agency Worker Regulations say that anyone working for a school for 12 weeks or more are entitled to the same pay and conditions as their permanent equivalent. The clock only stops ticking when that person doesn’t go to the same school for a gap of six weeks and this resets the clock. Academies that are part of a multi academy trust cannot be considered separate entities any more. So supply teachers are getting to the threshold a lot quicker. This can make life even more di cult for the schools as it usually means a charge rate increase to reflect the extra pay entitlement to the teacher. Unfortunately, the margin charged by the agency doesn’t go down after 12 weeks!

EM Is there a better way without having to go through the agencies and so paying their premiums?

BK Schools are crying out for a better system but their reliance on agencies hangs around compliance and reliable sourcing; an empty classroom would be a disaster! They must have teachers who are safe, compliant and have had all their checks done. This can be quite a time consuming process in some instances, but once it has been done the first time it needn’t be repeated. What we have at The Supply Register is a mature solution as it operates in the heavily regulated industries such as the NHS where the supply of locum doctors is fundamental to the running of the service.

EM How does the Supply Register do that?

BK Using technology we provide a graduated response to a vacancy by using an electronic register of supply staff. Each school has its own ‘local bank’ of who they can call on when they have an absence and we populate their register with these regular supply teachers and teaching assistants. When there is a need this ‘bank’ is their first port of call, if that doesn’t fill their requirement we provide an extra opportunity from a ‘wider bank’ to and a suitable supply teacher before they arrive with an agency.

These start when the school places a vacancy onto the system. It instantly sent to all of the schools existing local bank of staff who could fill it. For a pre-set time, this vacancy will only be visible to those staff. If the vacancy cannot be filled it will it move onto the next stage where the vacancy will then be sent to their neighbouring schools’ ‘bank’ members.

Finally, if the vacancy still cannot be filled then it’s opened up to the agencies in a tiered structure. Tier One will be the school’s local agency and they get an exclusivity period, so will agree fulfilment service levels and preferred margin rates, we aim to get this down to an ethical level.

If the Tier One agency cannot fill a vacancy, then at Tier Two we normally have a mix of 2-3 other agencies. They may not wish to reduce their margins, but they will still want to see any vacancies that eventually come through. As it will generally be an emergency when you go to those agencies they will charge a capped rate.

EM What about the point of view of the supply teachers and how does it encourage them to get on the Supply Register?

BK Agencies do not pay their teachers the same as full time equivalents. So one of the first steps to encouraging teachers to work with us is to offer them full time pay. We ensure that anyone working for a school for five days or longer are paid the equivalent of their full time colleagues. The only time we would pay less is that if the teacher is not expected to plan, mark any lessons and not have to complete any work outside hours. As they only have to take the lesson 85% represents good value for them. So it’s financially advantageous for them to be on The Supply Register.

The second advantage is that most teachers rely on an agency to update their personnel le and complete all their reference checks. The only details that have to be updated regularly is a teacher’s reference and disclosure checks which doesn’t take long and a DBS update check only takes a matter of minutes. We give them access to their le online to provide updates for us to verify and review, and so their le remains constantly up to date. Only candidates that are fully checked with all their documents uploaded can go to work, this provides further reassurance to the schools as they can call on this documentation whenever they need to.

A huge advantage is the diary system. Rather than relying on a call they can update their availability calendars on a real time basis. They can decide ‘at lunchtime tomorrow I am not available for work.’ They can update their availability with 3-4 clicks on their phone application and they will not be notified of any vacancies on the days they are not available

EM If a school wanted a teacher how do they go about it? How do teachers wanting to fill that vacancy know about it and respond?

BK The school would go online and with three clicks get a vacancy onto the system.

Available and qualified teachers then receive a notification their phone or by email. They simply press to accept or reject button.

EM What do you charge and when are you paid?

BK We charge £6 to £12 per day for the service. That’s where the school’s savings are made. The £6 is for any candidate that the school add to their bank themselves. The £12 is for the teachers that we populate and source ourselves. We will charge schools on a weekly basis for every candidate they have had the prior week. As the technology is doing all the work, we concentrate on compliance, resourcing ad account management consultants
to keep candidates les up to date, meet school demands and to liaise between hiring managers, bank members and agencies. This ensures we don’t have the layers of cost usually used to justify the whopping fees and margins!

EM In a nutshell, what is this system going to do?

BK It will even up the supply and demand in the school’s favour. We want schools and teachers to realise that they don’t have to work with an agency in order to get consistent work. Supply teachers and schools are able to regain control over their costs again and with supply being so important to experienced and teachers new to the profession we are hoping to retain teachers that would otherwise be lost to other jobs with better pay!

“Bringing down the cost of supply teachers” featured in the Autumn edition of  Education Magazine.

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