Building on our campaign to access fair pay for all supply teachers and school support staff we are today delighted to announce our accreditation as a Living Wage Employer by the Living Wage Foundation.
The Living Wage campaign has a basic fairness at its heart: all workers should be paid enough to live on, rather than just the government-mandated minimum (the National Minimum Wage, or NMW).
Sadly, we have found that too many education recruitment agencies, especially those using umbrella companies to employ staff, pay Teaching Assistants and support staff the absolute bare minimum that they are required to by law — the NMW.
The difference between the NMW and the Living Wage is stark
TAs and support staff have time and again been lauded for their efforts in supporting school continuity over the last 18 months. Their efforts have supported children’s education in the most challenging of circumstances.
It’s time for education recruitment agencies to put their money where their mouths are and pay TAs fairly, and it’s time for schools using agency TAs to demand this from their agency suppliers.
Committing to change and delivering social value in education recruitment
At Teacher Booker our long term commitment is to ensure education recruitment works in a fair way for everyone. As part of that commitment we must include support staff who are too often overworked and underpaid.
Committing to pay the living wage to all staff is a clear way to embed social value at the core of our service as education recruiters, and for hiring schools to ensure that all staff — internal and external — are treated fairly.
But for those recruitment agencies/umbrellas who currently only pay NMW, such a commitment could mean that margin preservation becomes difficult as the overall cost of support staff goes up.
Pressure on school budgets means agencies must keep their total charge rate down to remain competitive. If schools demand fair pay for agency staff and low total charge rates then the only space for reduction in cost is on the agency margin.
By putting pressure on the margins charged by agencies, rather than on the pay received by working school staff, together we can move towards a more sustainable, transparent and efficient working dynamic in the sector without hiring schools incurring additional costs or liabilities.
What the Living Wage means & how schools can calculate worker pay
In London in July 2021, the Living Wage is £10.85 per hour gross pay. Across the rest of the UK it is £9.50 per hour.
Over a 7.5 hour working day, the London daily Living Wage is therefore £81.38/day, whilst in other areas it is £71.25.
To calculate the total cost of the worker we then need to add Employer’s National Insurance Contribution at 13.8% (plus Employer’s Pension Contribution payments, if applicable). Assuming there is no Employer’s Pension Contribution (because the worker has opted out of the pension scheme, for example), this results in a total cost of the worker of £92.60/day in London and £81.08 outside London.
The final element to add is the agency’s margin. A typical agency margin of £40/day (generally speaking £30 would be an absolute minimum) takes the total cost of a support staff worker to around £130/day in London. The £40/day margin is where the cost pressure must be applied to maintain both affordability for the school and fair gross pay for the worker — not on the gross pay to the worker.
Having engaged with thousands of candidates on the issue of pay and conditions, we know that many agency support staff working in schools today are only paid the National Minimum Wage. That there are staff in schools today working through recruitment agencies and umbrella companies whose gross pay is far less than the Living Wage should be a serious cause for concern for school leaders who wish to promote an equitable and responsible employer image.
As a school, to calculate what support workers might be getting paid by their agency we can do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. Take the total cost from the agency, and subtract a minimum of £30 agency margin to reach a subtotal. Then divide this amount by 1.138 — this is the Employer’s NI contribution. The resulting figure will be approximately the worker’s gross pay.
As an example, a school paying £105 total cost for a supply agency TA could deduce that:
- £105 total cost to the school
- Subtract £30 agency margin = £75 subtotal
- Divide £75 by 1.138 (Employer’s National Insurance Contribution of 13.8%)
- = £65.91 gross pay to the worker: This is 19% below the London Living Wage
What actions can we take now?
We need to take affirmative action now to show that we recognise the value of support staff and the critical job they do.
For schools, the first step is to fully commit to understanding gross teacher pay and any umbrella company arrangements with the supply agencies you use — even if the conversation is a little uncomfortable.
When choosing an agency supplier, always ask for their Key Information Document which will break down how the teacher is paid (PAYE or umbrella company). It’s really important to understand this, as the difference in the gross payment for the teacher can be in the region of 15-20% depending on which method is used.
As a school, a Living Wage Employer accreditation can add weight to your employer brand profile by demonstrating that you have carefully considered this aspect of your recruitment and employment protocol.
Accreditation includes a commitment to ensure that subcontracted staff are paid the living wage, and advertising that your school is a Living Wage Employer can a) attract candidates directly to you and b) demonstrate to suppliers like recruitment agencies that you have a baseline expectation on pay for support staff. This will give you a stronger hand when negotiating total charge rates.
For agencies, advertising that you are a Living Wage Employer could help you attract support staff, as the commitment to delivering social value you are demonstrating will have a tangible impact on your reputation in the candidate market.
Raising standards and working conditions for all school staff is everyone’s responsibility. Working with responsible suppliers who have committed to fair pay for support staff is one way of ensuring that everyone working in schools is treated fairly and no-one is exploited. By taking small actions to better understand the pay and conditions of our essential support staff, we can begin to ingrain a more sustainable, fairer model of temporary employment in education that will have positive effects on resourcing and support provision over the long-term.