The Guardian’s anonymous blogger Secret Teacher recently spoke about the experience of supply teaching: “I once asked to be paid through PAYE, but my agency’s response was to cancel a long-term supply contract (paying me in that way would have cost more money). I was left without work and out of pocket for the upcoming term, and was powerless to do anything about it.”
The Secret Teacher isn’t the only one to share negative experiences of getting paid as a supply teacher. Head to the TES community forum or teacher Facebook groups, and you’ll find similar horror stories about supply teaching leaving people severely out of pocket.
So, what’s going on?
Supply teachers are mostly employed by or through agencies, rather than the school or local authority, meaning they’re not covered by the pay provisions of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD). Instead, pay is determined by the agency they’re engaged with, which can sometimes be lower than the pay rates of teachers in regular employment and those directly employed by schools.
Agencies can set their own pay levels, meaning there are wide disparities in pay across different agencies and regions. According to a National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey, less than 8% of teachers said their pay was in line with the rate of pay they would be entitled to if employed directly by a school.
Why are supply teachers being short-changed?
In some cases, schools are bargaining with agencies and, rather than reduce their own margins, the agencies will cut the pay of the supply teacher.
However, the most common issue arises from the use of umbrella companies. Some agencies use umbrella companies to allow them to avoid employer tax contributions. As a result, it falls to the supply teacher to shoulder the full national insurance and pension payments, which can reduce a day rate by somewhere in the region of £20.
Additionally, they can no longer claim against their liabilities for travel and sustenance like they could before 2014 and day rates generally haven’t moved to compensate for this loss.
What choices to supply teachers have?
Although the National Education Union (NEU) advises against supply teachers entering into contracts paid through umbrella organisations, this isn’t always possible. Most teaching employment agencies rely on umbrella companies to employ supply teachers, given there are very few local authority alternatives.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. More ethical supply agencies and umbrella companies are emerging, and the NASUWT’s partnership with the Supply Register agency promises teachers better terms and conditions. Additionally, the government has spoken about establishing a code of conduct and a national pool of trusted supply teacher agencies to help schools crack down on escalating costs and fees.
What can supply teachers do in the meantime?
Although a lot of agencies use umbrella companies, supply teachers can still exercise control over who they work with. Mango Pay, for example, was established to be morally compliant at all times. We provide payroll solutions for workers across a wide range of industries, including education, and ensure we only ever engage with agencies that are concerned with fair pay for workers.
Here are some of our tips to ensure supply teachers don’t get left out of pocket:
- Check the facts. Ask to view the contract from the umbrella along with a pay breakdown that shows all costs, charges and deductions and compares this to what you would take home compared to PAYE. Make sure this breakdown is in line with what’s detailed in the contract.
- Beware of hidden costs. Look in the contract for any mention of low-rate introductory fees that increase after a period, penalty charges for leaving the company or any specific rules around ‘holiday pay’.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Too many supply teachers end up short-changed due to assurances that ‘every other teacher gets paid the same’. Your questions and concerns should be addressed to put your mind at rest. If that doesn’t happen, it’s time to look for another agency.
- Check liabilities. Don’t sign a document that exempts an agency or umbrella company from any liability.
- Check your payslips. If you do go ahead and commit to an agency with an umbrella solution make sure you always check your payslips carefully to ensure the right deductions have been made. If something’s not right, contact the umbrella company straight away. If that doesn’t solve the problem, get in touch with HMRC directly.
If you’re looking for further help and advice, head to NEU website to view its supply teacher reference section. You can also find out more about Mango Pay and the ethical education employment agencies we work with by getting in touch with our team.