Solving the Supply Paradox

A low cost collaborative bank first approach will fix many of the issues around securing supply teachers, says the Supply Register.

There is no escaping the fact that talent supply shortages within the teaching profession are now at crisis levels, particularly when it comes to supply recruitment. But while the reasons behind the current problem may be deep and complex, the solution requires a ‘back to basics’ approach.

In recent years we have witnessed long established university teacher-training courses being systematically replaced with School Direct schemes which many education establishments find hard to sustain as budgets are cut in real-terms for the first time in decades. Add to that the fact that around 40 per cent of newly qualified teachers are believed to leave the profession within the year, and it’s easy to see why talent pools are beginning to stagnate.

In fact, according to the National Audit Office, the number of teachers leaving the profession has increased by 11 per cent over three years and ministers have failed to hit their recruitment target for four consecutive years – despite a £700m annual bill for their efforts.

The independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) recently warned that schools in England and Wales face staff shortages unless the government funds ‘significant’ increases in teacher pay. However, at a time when agency supply is outstripping direct supply, it is doubtful that staff themselves will ever benefit from increasing HR budgets.

According to the NUT, the cost of agency supply teachers to schools has increased markedly in recent years. Analysis of recent DfE figures shows that the cost to schools of supply staff rose to £1.3bn in 2014-15, representing an increase of more than a quarter in the last two years. The cost for academies and Free Schools rose by 42 per cent in just 12 months. Furthermore, the average daily charge to schools by a supply agency for a teacher can be as much as £100 higher than the actual daily pay rate for that teacher, which goes straight into the agency’s coffers.

Supply teaching is often regarded as a positive experience for all teachers but of particular importance for NQTs. Diverse environments can help professionals to gain a vital blend of experience in inner-city, SEN, EAL settings, which enable them to become more rounded practitioners. However, when 90 per cent of supply teachers’ pay in England and Wales is not in-line with what they would be entitled to if employed by a school or an academy directly, many are sacrificing around £6,000 a year to sharpen their skills through the variety that supply work offers.

This climate is creating what some commentators have labeled a supply paradox. As the traditional ‘black book’ approach to supply staffing becomes less feasible, agencies are increasingly called in to source talent. The lower pay and poor CPD support offered by agencies demotivates and discourages teachers – hence contributing to the shortage. Put simply, the agency ‘solution’ is contributing to the problem.

A myriad of data shows that teachers would prefer a direct relationship with schools, but increasing compliance coupled with fundamental shifts in the structure of the education system means that this is not always feasible. The solution is a gradual return to easily accessible, local, regional and multi academy talent banks without unnecessary legislative pressures.

By making small but persistent changes, schools and academies can become open to working collaboratively as partners to share local talent that can be deployed safely and reliably. With teachers and teaching assistants lobbying regularly because of the unfair pay and treatment they can often receive from agencies, technology platform The Supply Register addresses the problems that commonly arise for professionals who choose to complete assignments through supply.

While other technology platforms available in the market often rely on incumbent supply agencies to engage, through The Supply Register, schools can bridge the gap between absence and agency engagement with an ever growing eco-system of temporary staff. When the bank is unable to deliver the desired personnel the vacancy is cascaded to carefully selected tiers of agencies. The result is that schools can have immediate access to fully vetted, motivated and ethically paid supply teachers.

One of the most discussed topics amongst policy-makers and school staff is the future of our nation’s teachers. And with pupil numbers in England predicted to rise by eight per cent over the next 5 years, at the same time that there is a demographic dip in the numbers of graduates in their early 20s, this ‘teacher crunch’ shows no sign of abating. Justine Greening’s recent appointment as Education Secretary – one of the few to have held the role to have attended a non-selective state school – will hopefully provide fresh long term resolutions to the ongoing talent crisis. In the meantime, we need a supply recruitment solution that benefits not only school leaders – but also the staff themselves if we are to retain our world-renowned education system.

“Solving the Supply Paradox” featured in the August edition of Education Business Magazine.

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