Over the weekend I was delighted to spy this brave blog post on Teacher Toolkit, the UK’s most followed education blog. Titled ‘Why Supply Agencies are the new ‘Del Boys’’, it is as forthright as it is faithful to the facts in summarising the current state of play in how agencies and schools interact.
Numerous issues in this dynamic are highlighted – from agencies’ clumsy and ineffective methods of teacher vetting and recruitment to their implicitly dishonest communication with teachers and schools, aptly analogised as the behaviour of a second-hand car salesman.
The magnitude of the issues raised can hardly be overestimated – and we know because we’ve been working to neutralise them for close to a year now. But it’s promising to see broader recognition of the problems the agency system presents, setting us all further down the path to correcting them. With that in mind, we wanted to throw solidarity behind Teacher Toolkit and emphasise the various ways we’re working to create a fair, efficient and effective system of teacher recruitment. With a helpful peppering of quotes from the post in question, we want to show how we’re building a system for the benefit of schools, teachers and above all else, students.
“Does receiving a CV and pimping it out to some schools justify charging 15-25% of the annual salary? I’ll answer this for you succinctly. No”
Problem: As agencies have been the only game in town for quite some time, they’ve been able to charge exorbitant service fees for every single day one of their teachers are based in a school. The figures become astronomical when multiple members of staff are employed essentially full-time, but fundamentally still work through an agency. Should a teacher turn out to be a perfect fit for a school and they’d like to take them on permanently, they’ll need to pay the agency a finder’s fee (often in the region of four or five figures) for the privilege. In addition, the common view that supply teachers are paid well is mistaken. They are often paid poorly proportionate to their experience and skills, with agencies utilising intricate and abstruse mechanisms of payroll that often leave them with poor take-home pay.
Solution: Don’t charge agency fees. Simple. An agile, efficient system that substitutes costly, clumsy human agents with scrupulously designed technology makes the whole enterprise so cost-effective that they aren’t necessary.
The same goes for finder’s fees – they’re perfectly unnecessary and motivated exclusively by profit. So get rid of them. The corresponding upshot for teachers is that they get paid better through the Teacher Booker system than by an agency – by liberating schools from the yoke of agency fees they can focus their funds on taking on and retaining excellent staff, while teachers know that their income isn’t being hoovered up by vaguely described administrative fees.
The quality of teachers
“I have recruited hundreds of teachers over the years and have always interviewed and recruited on attitude, gut feeling and a sense of fit. I have also employed many, many supply teachers, the majority of which, I’m afraid to say, have offered little more than expensive babysitting”
Problem: Most agencies are staffed predominantly by individuals with next to no background working in schools. As such, they are poorly prepared to identify good teachers or find schools of appropriate fit. In spite of these weak powers of judgment, schools must rely on agents to decide who to send into their school. The issue is further compounded by the demon of daily commission which incentivises agencies to take on and place as many teachers as they can, independent of quality or experience. In a recent interview with national education expert, Tom Bennett, he pointed out that this culture has normalised the idea that a day with a supply teacher is necessarily a lost day of learning.
Solution: Teachers should be assessed by experienced fellow teachers. Their CVs should be read and assessed by fellow teachers. Their performance in interviews should be assessed by fellow teachers. Its perfectly obvious. Hence why at Teacher Booker all candidates are currently rigorously scrutinised by a team of experienced teachers from varying backgrounds, from mainstream primary to special provision secondary. This allows us to ensure only teachers of the highest quality are taken on. Its important that judgments about which teachers would be right for a school are made as much as possible by the school taking them on – our unique system allows schools to browse a menu of available teachers in their area, read key information about them, and then make an informed decision as to who to bring into their school to teach their students.
“You arrive at the garage and encounter a slight hitch. The salesman informs you that the car isn’t yet in his possession. In fact, he hasn’t ever seen the car but the last owner assures him it is a solid runner with no obvious issues.”
Problem: The agency system is something of a black box – money goes in from schools, supply teachers come out. Schools have next to no say on who comes into their school for supply, especially if they’re making the decision under time pressure. On the other side of the equation, teachers often know little more about a school than a postcode barked down the phone at 6am. They often arrive unprepared, knowing nothing of the school’s behaviour or safeguarding policy. Moreover the techniques of agencies to entice schools and teachers are built around presentation of concrete candidates and roles respectively. Quite reasonably drawn into contact with agencies, schools and teachers are often shocked to find out that no such candidate or position exists, but they may very well do in the future if you stay on the books of the agency. These textbook marketing tactics have no place in an area where children’s education is at stake.
Solution: The system needs to be transparent, with schools being able to make an informed decision about who is right for their school while teachers are able to make a parallel decision about where they’d best be able to serve. The Teacher Booker app facilitates precisely this, with schools examining candidate teachers and inviting those they like to jobs, while teachers have access to appropriate information about schools who invite them to jobs. Safeguarding policies and behaviour policies of an inviting school are accessible to teachers, ensuring they arrive already steeped in the way that particular school works. A system that is built for the benefit of schools, teachers and students eschews underhanded tactics by allowing schools to browse available candidates and make their own decisions.
There’s no doubt we’ve already made great progress in helping many schools save money and many teachers get a fair shake for doing their job. But there’s still plenty more work to be done, and more schools and teachers need to grasp the problem and join us in the vanguard fighting against it. Consider this your call to arms.