Why supply teachers are the 5th emergency service

Supply Teachers

According to figures released by the Department of Education, over 2 million academic days were lost due to teacher sickness during the academic year 2016/17. The same document confirms that 55% of teachers in schools had to take time off due to illness.

We know, those numbers are huge, but there is no cause for panic. Despite it’s well documented staffing shortfall, our education system did not melt down last year. What these figures do show us is the continued importance of teaching agencies and their candidates in supporting UK schools and allowing them to keep running.

The vast majority of those 2 million academic days will have been covered by supply teachers, who stepped in to teach an unfamiliar class in an unfamiliar school often with just a few hours’ notice. We employ a lot of supply teachers so we’re well aware of how dedicated they are, and how important their work is.

There is another important issue here. Supply teachers, heroes though they often are, are not indestructible super-people. In other words, if over half of teachers in schools have to take time off due to illness, supply teachers are likely having similar experiences. The difference is that supply teachers only get paid when they work – or do they?

For some, this is the case. For those who are paid directly by supply agencies there is no getting around the fact that they’re working on a temporary ad-hoc basis and can’t expect to be paid when they’re unable to work. This is not the case for those who are employed by umbrella companies, and this is one reason why umbrella employment has become such an important part of the supply teaching landscape.

Umbrella employees are permanently employed by their umbrella company. This gives them a single, continuous period of employment no matter how many assignments their agency may place them in, or how much time they have between those assignments. They’re entitled to the same rights and benefits that other UK employees get, including statutory sick pay. This is still the case when they’re between assignments, and during the school holidays when there’s no work available. 


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