Saving money and time on supply teaching

Latest figures show a seven per cent drop in acceptances on to teacher training courses for 2017 – sparking concerns that it might get even tougher to recruit teachers. Peter Carpenter, CEO at TeacherIn, explores the shortfalls of agencies and how the solution might lie in technology – specifically, apps

Peter Carpenter, CEO at TeacherIn
One of the most significant areas of concern relating to the education sector in 2016 was the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Unfortunately, in 2017, there’s been little change, leaving many schools wondering how to cope with the shortfall, especially if there is a lack of teachers in their local area.
Naturally, this has led to schools sourcing supply teachers to plug the gaps left by unfilled positions or to cover short and long-term absences. However, while this is a sensible avenue, it can come at quite an expense if schools don’t opt for the most cost-effective and reliable pathway.

The agency question

Schools need supply teachers that are suitable for the particular posts available, ideally close to the subject area and holding all the necessary qualifications. For schools with already busy workloads this can be a time-consuming task and it’s no surprise, therefore, that many put their trust into recruitment agencies to source supply teachers on their behalf.
That’s not to say that many agencies aren’t able to fulfil the majority of requests. However, it was reported that in 2016 the amount schools spent on supply teachers through recruitment agencies alone reached over £821m. This is a staggering amount, especially with school budgets continually tightening and, on those occasions where the recruitment agencies send over teachers without the relevant experience or subject knowledge, is this really a worthwhile investment?

In numbers

The approach appears to be little different for supply teachers also. In its 2016 survey, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) found that 77% of supply teachers went via an agency to obtain work, in comparison to a mere 22% liaising directly with a school. While an agency may appear to provide a ‘shortcut’, handling all the necessary administration and supporting supply teachers in finding the right job, they are also free to determine their own pay levels. This means that some supply teachers end up sacrificing a significant amount of their salary due to commission. The NUT revealed that only six per cent of supply teachers were paid £150 or more per day. To put this into perspective, even as a daily rate, that is still around 10% below the national rate for a teacher with five years’ experience.

Entering the digital arena

With the prevalence of technology in every sector, it’s important to research what’s out there and how it can help tackle this issue. There are already apps available on the market that can help connect schools and supply teachers directly, cutting out the expenses of the ‘middle man’.
Digital systems and apps can eradicate the need for agencies and, while schools may have concerns around the time it may take to find, interview, and source supply teachers, there is, in fact, minimal disruption. Many apps provide all the necessary information, allowing schools to easily and simply scan a bank of teacher profiles based on location, subject areas and experience – and to offer them a position at the click of a button. Similarly, supply teachers are able to upload their portfolios and accept or decline offers instantly.
In addition to the time and cost-savings, connecting schools and supply teachers directly provides many more opportunities that agencies cannot, including access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, CPD programmes and a more streamlined way of controlling staffing and records.

The proof is in the…virtual pudding

One group of schools already seeing the benefits of using an app for this purpose is Bridge Multi Academy Trust in Cornwall. Stephanie Bass, business manager, explains why. “There are no daily commissions or finder’s fees, meaning we can engage teachers for longer-term supply without the concern of paying huge amounts. The one-off annual fee is also significantly less than our usual annual recruitment agency total, allowing us to better utilise our budget. I estimate our schools will save thousands this year.
“The app provides us with a database of local supply teachers and their profiles, including whether they are experienced in the Early Years Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1 or 2, and more. We know that all teachers have been through an interview and vetting process, including DBS checks, which allows us to quickly identify suitable and available teachers for the schools in our region. This ensures that our lessons can be effectively covered. This will not only make it better for our learners but also has a positive impact for the supply teacher coming into school.”

More than ‘ticking boxes’

The wellbeing of the supply teachers themselves is important too, of course. Rather than relying on recruiters to find them a job, signing up to a system that puts them in direct contact with schools means they have the ownership and relationship with the school so can receive all the right information from the school they would be working for – for example, receiving lesson plans ahead of time – and, most importantly, get paid directly.
Ahead of the cover period, supply teachers can request the focus areas they will be teaching, meaning they can then look into any available CPD courses tailored to those areas to build their skills and expertise.
While it may seem easier to stick with what you know, sometimes there are better and more effective options out there waiting to be found. Being able to reduce the work being done with recruitment agencies will not only decrease the expenditure but will also offer huge benefits to both the school and the supply teacher. The transition is as simple as going from booking a taxi over the phone to using Uber, so the question that needs to be asked is: why wait?
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