Supply teaching: what’s next?

Published 02/12/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

The Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru says supply teaching should be brought back ‘in-house’, or at least under local democratic control and delivery. The Agreement states:

As first steps, we will work together and with social partners to: bring forward options for a more sustainable model of supply teaching with fair work at its heart, which will include local authority-led and school-led alternatives.

Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, is making a statement in the Senedd on Tuesday 6 December, when he’s expected to set out how the Welsh Government will meet this commitment.

How are supply teachers currently employed?

When a teacher is absent, schools need to ensure that any missed lessons are covered. They often use supply teachers to cover this gap. Schools can directly employ teachers or use a commercial supply agency.

Supply teachers working in local authority maintained schools that are directly employed by the school or  by the local authority are generally paid in accordance with the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), like other school teachers.

Where supply teachers work through commercial supply teaching agencies, they’re employed by the agency and don’t necessarily have the same terms and conditions as other school teachers.

Education Workforce Council statistics show that in 2021, 77% of supply teachers were employed through an agency and 22% were employed through a local authority.

All local authorities in Wales are part of framework agreements for employing agency staff. The most recent framework became operational in September 2019. The current contract has a number of differences from earlier ones, including the introduction of a minimum daily pay rate for supply teachers in line with the current STPCD. Although all local authorities have signed up to the framework agreement, schools are free to engage supply teachers as they choose, through an agency that is part of the agreement, a different supply agency or through direct or local authority employment.

What have previous Senedd Committees found about supply teaching?

A Senedd Committee inquiry in 2015 looked at a range of issues relating to supply teaching including the potential effect on pupil outcomes, professional learning for supply teachers and the use of supply agencies.

The Committee recommended the Welsh Government look at a range of options for the employment of supply teachers, including cluster arrangements operated by local authorities or through a national body.

The Welsh Government responded to the report by establishing a Ministerial Supply Model Taskforce. The Taskforce's report (February 2017) recommended the Welsh Government should consider the employment of supply teachers in the context of existing social partnerships arrangements. It said any suggested future options should include exploring a collaborative model based on a regional basis, which could involve local authorities, regional education consortia, Higher Education Institutions and schools..

Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education at the time, accepted most of the report’s recommendations but said further detailed work was required to establish whether all of the recommendations would be legally deliverable. She said the recommendations relating to regulating the quality of supply agencies and a collaborative model raised ‘complex legal and policy issues’.

The Fifth Senedd’s Petitions Committee considered a petition that called for supply teachers to be paid fairly and have full access to training opportunities and other terms and conditions. The Committee recommended (March 2021) that:

…the next Welsh Government should give further consideration to alternative arrangements for supporting schools to find and employ supply teachers, including direct employment and the introduction of centralised or regional supply arrangements. We consider that a public sector solution would have significant advantages over the current model.

In response, the Welsh Government reiterated that the Taskforce had said that it could not recommend a single model of delivery that would be appropriate for Wales. However, it said it would consider a further independent review into the employment of supply teachers, to inform any proposals for alternative possible supply models.

What alternatives have been trialled?

The Welsh Government established a pilot scheme for the employment of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) to work as supply teachers in school clusters. £2.7 million was allocated over two years and 18 school clusters in 15 local authorities were involved. An evaluation found the scheme had enabled schools to work together to design and implement a range of innovative arrangements to address teacher absence cover. 

A follow-up evaluation (2020), involving 14 of the 18 clusters, found that two of the nine cluster leads who responded to the survey had continued with the project during a third year. It also found that financial barriers or costs were reported by clusters to be the main reason for not continuing with the project.

The Welsh Government said it would continue to promote this model to both schools and local authorities.

What happens in other UK countries?

In Scotland, all supply teachers working in maintained schools are employed by local authorities as part of a supply pool and are paid in line with the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) Handbook of Conditions of Service. The SNCT is a tripartite body comprising members from teaching organisations, local authorities, and the Scottish Government.

In England, the situation is similar to Wales where schools can engage supply teachers through agencies or through direct employment. There’s also a framework agreement between the public procurement organisation, the Crown Commercial Service,  and selected suppliers who provide temporary staff. 

In Northern Ireland, a centralised model comprising an online networked teacher booking system and a register of substitute teachers operates across the majority of schools. Only substitute (supply) teachers who are on the Northern Ireland Substitute Teacher Register are able to work on a temporary basis in grant aided schools.

The Northern Ireland system was suggested to the Petitions Committee as a proposed model for Wales.. The then Minister told the Petitions Committee in 2019 the statutory responsibility for staffing and deployment of staff within schools is a matter for individual headteachers and their governing bodies. As such, the Welsh Government, does “not have the power to compel use of a centralised system”.

How to follow the debate

The Minister’s statement is scheduled for Tuesday  6 December 2022 .The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Senedd’s Record of Proceedings.

Article by Sian Hughes, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament