Challenging misconceptions in the education sector

31 May 2016



The REC represents more than 300 education agencies in the UK, all of which are obliged to operate under the REC Code of Professional Practice.

We recently surveyed REC Education members to find out more about how they work, and to address common misconceptions about supply teachers and their agencies. Here are our key findings.

Why work as a supply teacher?

According to 90 per cent of recruitment agencies, the main reason a teacher will choose to seek out supply work is because they enjoy the general flexibility this affords them. Three quarters of agencies reported that the teachers on their books chose supply work because of family commitments. This reflects the NUT’s data on why individuals are supply teachers.

Eight in ten agencies we spoke to said their supply teachers want to escape the pressures of permanent roles, while 65 per cent of recruiters say their supply teachers are seeking opportunities to work in a variety of schools.

Considering well-publicised teacher shortages, it’s interesting that 46 per cent of agencies told us that their supply teachers work in this way because they are unable to find permanent jobs.

How difficult is it to find work as a supply teacher?

According to REC Education members, less than ten per cent of supply teachers have struggled to find work since the start of 2016.

Earlier this year the National Audit Office reported that teacher vacancies doubled between 2011 and 2014, and this rising demand has gone hand in hand with falling candidate availability. During this timeframe, there was a significant increase in teachers choosing to leave before retirement, rising from 64 per cent to 75 per cent.

Three quarters of education agencies report that the availability of candidates has deteriorated over the last 12 months – something needs to change if we are to reverse this decline. The view of REC Education members is that the workload placed upon teachers must be reduced if we are to attract more people to the profession.

Who decides supply teachers’ pay?

Pay rates are not decided by our members but at the direction of the school and in negotiation with the supply teacher. More than nine in ten education agencies say that these negotiations factor in the experience levels of a supply teacher.

While 42 per cent of education agencies acknowledge that teacher pay rates have not changed much over the last few years (a sign of public sector pay constraints), 49 per cent reported pay rates for supply teachers are more or significantly more than they were two years ago. Only nine per cent of respondents believe pay rates have gone down.

Do agencies use umbrella companies?

Three quarters of REC Education members said they pay supply teachers through an umbrella company. But in talking to members, it is clear that this is most often because supply teachers gain assignments through multiple agencies and they have a preferred umbrella which they request to use.

We recommend that only accredited umbrella organisations are used – such as those who are members of the FCSA. If a supply teacher has any concerns about the use of umbrella companies by an REC member, they can report that agency to the REC and we will investigate.

How much do agencies charge schools?

Critics of the recruitment industry claim that agencies charge an excessive margin for their services – but it’s important to bear in mind the services that are covered by the fee.

A supply teacher’s pay rate is set by the school / local authority. Agencies will typically charge a 15-30 per cent margin on top of that pay rate, and this fee covers:

National Insurance Holiday pay Pension contributions for their supply teachers Public liability insurance Safeguarding and background checks Support and advice to schools on candidate pools and pre-booking management Supply teacher handbooks for schools Marketing the job vacancy Learning and development of their own consultants Payroll services   All other associated liabilities and costs of running a business.

In addition to the above, many agencies also offer training and CPD opportunities for supply teachers – reinvesting the profits they make back into the services they offer.

Going forward, we would like to see CPD provision extended – we would encourage schools hiring supply teachers to provide opportunities which would be offered to any other member of staff.

What is the 12 Week Rule?

Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) can be confusing if it’s the first time you’ve encountered it, but recruitment businesses are experts. AWR provides for equal treatment on pay and working conditions between temps and permanent staff after 12 weeks of an assignment.

Some supply teachers are on a Pay Between Assignments (PBA) contract, meaning that they opt out of the 12 Week Rule, but receive the same benefits as a permanent employee, such as holiday leave and sick pay. However, it is false to suggest that Pay Between Assignments contracts (also known as Reg 10 or Swedish Derogation) are widespread in the education sector – 85 per cent of REC Education agencies say their supply teachers do not work through PBA contracts.

Do supply teachers receive a pension?

Like all businesses, a recruiter must provide their temps with access to a pension scheme under automatic enrolment.  Unfortunately, the Department for Education will not allow supply teachers to qualify for the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – something many recruitment agencies wish would change.

What does being an REC Education member mean?

All REC members must abide by a Code of Professional Practice. Ninety-four per cent of education members say they reference the fact they are an REC member on their own websites – so it should be easy to find out if an agency is signed up to our Code.

The Code goes over and above the legislation, meaning that compliance with AWR, the Conduct Regulations, and appropriate vetting checks under DBS must be done as standard. Some REC members go further and apply for REC Audited Education status, which is the benchmark for the highest standards in education recruitment.

A commitment to the REC Code means that an education agency must provide an ethical recruitment service to supply teachers. If such a service is not provided, the REC can investigate and after consideration by our Professional Standards Committee, which includes a representative from the TUC, we can issue a sanction against that member.

The education sector is facing huge staffing challenges due to a shortage of teachers. Supply teachers play a vital role in helping schools meet their obligations, and the recruiters that help schools find the staff they need are also providing a valuable service.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that schools understand exactly what they should expect from a good quality, compliant agency – for instance, early in 2014 we published a free guide for all schools called ‘Putting Pupils First’. The REC and its members stand ready to work with schools, supply teachers, unions and other stakeholders to ensure that supply teachers’ rights are understood and that teachers are treated fairly.

The REC conducted an online survey of 68 agencies between 29/04/2016 – 27/05/2016.

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