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Education

Call for Fair Deal for Supply Teachers?

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​​Schools can choose to ignore national framework: Carwyn Jones

A PROTEST is to take place outside the Senedd building in Cardiff on October 25 to draw attention to the treatment of supply teachers in Wales.
Fair Deal for Supply Teachers is organising the demonstration to protest the situation which sees experienced teachers placed into schools – often on a long-term basis – while earning significantly less than a newly qualified teacher.

​SUPPLY TEACHERS PAY FALLING

Typically, supply teachers take on the full role of an absent teacher at lower pay and without job security, holiday pay, or pension.

However, supply teachers often – if not usually – cost schools more to employ because of the charges levied by employment agencies for their services. An employment agency typically charges a premium to the school on the daily rate for a teacher.

The position of supply teachers deteriorated significantly under the last Labour government, which allows schools to employ non-qualified ‘cover supervisors’ to run classes during short-term teacher absences. That system has grown to be a source of significant abuse as cash-strapped schools are faced with choosing between paying high agency fees for temporary staff or relying on cheaper and unqualified alternatives.

The increasing dominance of agencies, the cost of agency teachers and the current education funding crisis all mean that the use of the supply teacher is under threat.

The plight of supply teachers has been the subject of a number of campaigns over recent years, none of them meeting with a significant measure of success or substantial and lasting change. It appears as though, while many fine words are spoken about the issue, there is a lack of political will to ensure that children are taught by qualified teachers during staff absences and to break the hold of teachers’ employment agencies in the education market.

To compound matters, some Welsh local authorities which had their own supply teaching pools, scrapped them and outsourced the provision of supply teachers to large agencies on the basis that it would save money. It has not and – as is often the case – a clever book-keeping exercise has ended up increasing costs. Rates charged for agency staff are higher than ever and the effective monopoly exercised in Wales has seen the costs of supply teachers soar with no benefit for the staff supplied, while the effective hourly rate for supply teachers has fallen to – in some cases – little better than £8 or £9 per hour.

According to the NUT, the average daily charge to schools by a supply agency for a teacher can be as much as £100 more than the amount paid to that teacher. Every time a supply teacher is engaged in this way, taxpayers’ money is funnelled into the pockets of private agencies.

​​SUPPLY TEACHERS ‘DEMORALISED’

In Wales, supply teachers’ concerns were raised last week by Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow spokesperson on education.
Speaking to BBC Wales, Llyr Gruffydd said he had been approached “by a number of very demoralised supply teachers”.

He told the BBC that one teacher who had approached him said she could only find supply work in Denbighshire through an agency and this left her £115 a day pay reduced to £85.

“Another is considering giving up a job he’s done for 18 years because of the drastic cut in pay and lack of any personal development or pension payments,” he said.

“What was wrong with the previous system whereby schools worked with supply staff directly and paid teachers properly without exploiting them? It was very simple and worked for decades.”

​​HAMILTON PRESSES JONES

The cause of supply teachers was raised by UKIP during questions to the First Minister on Tuesday ​(​Oct 17​)​.

Highlighting the Welsh Government’s criticism of the so-called ‘gig economy’ and zero hour contracts, Mr Hamilton asked whether supply teachers in Wales were in no better a position that the Uber drivers Labour-supporting unions are keen to see turfed out a job.

Mr Hamilton continued: “Some supply teachers are turning to pizza delivery to make ends meet, and supply teachers are voting with their feet and leaving and looking for alternative employment. Does the First Minister think that this is an acceptable situation?”

Carwyn Jones said the situation was not acceptable but that the question of teachers’ pay would not be devolved to Wales until next year.

He went on to say: “We have a supply teaching working group, which is looking at ways to boost the employment prospects and, indeed, income of supply teachers, and that is exactly what we plan to take forward.”

Not satisfied with the First Minister’s response, Mr Hamilton pressed on: “As the First Minister will probably know, supply teachers in England on average are paid about £130 a day, but in Cardiff that’s on average £90 to £95 a day, and in west Wales it’s as low as £80 a day.

“Agencies are charging schools above the rate for teachers on main scale 1- 4, and teachers with 20 years’ experience, therefore, can be paid less than a newly qualified teacher who’s permanently employed.”

He pointed out that scarcely seemed a fair wage.

The First Minister continued to avoid the issue by shifting the blame on to the schools for supply teachers’ poor pay and conditions and then suggesting that complete consistency would involve the removal of local management from them.

“The changing of the system away from LMS would require primary legislation, inevitably, and these are issues that Members will have to consider over the next few months. But, in the meantime, what we intend to do is use the working group that we’ve put together to improve the conditions of supply teachers, while at the same time considering the best outcome in the longer term.”

​WELSH GOVERNMENT SHOULD USE PERSUASION

Spotting the flaw in the First Minister’s response, Neil Hamilton pointed out: “Schools come under the regulation of local authorities—the responsibility of local authorities at any rate—and, of course, the Welsh Government is responsible for funding those schools and has great persuasive authority, even if it doesn’t have the legal authority.

“The effect has been that, for public sector workers in general, who have had a pay cap for the last 10 years, supply teachers have done a good deal worse and many of them have had a pay cut in effect of up to 40​% in the last 15 years. Also, many of these supply contracts have a clause in them, which you have to accept or else you don’t get the job, saying, ‘I accept that I will not be paid according to agency worker regulations.’ Is the Welsh Government going to do something specific about these abuses?”

​​JONES BLAMES SCHOOLS

Ignoring the invitation for the Welsh Government to bring pressure to bear on local authorities, Carwyn Jones responded: “These are issues that are being considered in advance of the devolution of pay and conditions. He said that local authorities are responsible. Schools are responsible for employing their supply teachers and, of course, if schools wish to employ supply teachers in a different way, rather than going through agencies, then that will be open to them. But with this being devolved in the very near future, this now gives us the opportunity to deal with these issues, which I recognise because I’ve had constituents come in to explain this to me as well, in a way that wasn’t possible before in the absence of devolution.”

​ONE AGENCY FOR 22 COUNCILS

It appeared as though Mr Jones was either not prepared to acknowledge or was unaware that 22 of Wales local authorities out of 22 have entered a ‘Managed Service Provider’ agreement for the supply of staff with only one teacher supply agency, making the ability of schools to directly employ supply staff behind those agreements more than a little doubtful.

That framework was set out by the Welsh Government’s own National Procurement System and states: ‘All 22 Local Authorities have signed up to use the Framework Agreements that the NPS put in place, and as such they will EXPECT (emphasis added) their schools to use New Directions, through the framework to meet their supply teacher requirement, though there is no compulsion to do so. Where schools opt to utilise other supply agencies it would be good practice for agencies to engage with the schools they provide services to, providing assurances to head teachers that the responsibilities listed in this section are being maintained by the agency’.

While that suggests that there is no compulsion to use New Directions’ services, the fact that they are Preferred Supplier backed by the Welsh Government and the subject of contractual arrangements with the local authorities that hold the schools’ purse strings indicates that the schools have little more than Hobson’s Choice.

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Education

Parents warned to look out for respiratory illness in children

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RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season

RESPIRATORY Syncytial Virus (RSV) is circulating amongst children and toddlers in the Hywel Dda area (Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire)  

Hywel Dda UHB Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive Dr Philip Kloer said: “Because of the COVID restrictions, there have been few cases of RSV during the pandemic, but this virus has returned and in higher numbers now people are mixing more.

“RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season, and causes very few problems to the majority of children.  However, very young babies, particularly those born prematurely, and children with heart or lung conditions, can be seriously affected and it’s important that parents are aware of the actions to take.”

Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including:

*a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)

*a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).

The best way to prevent RSV is to wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly, dispose of used tissues correctly, and to keep surfaces clean and sanitised.

Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:

  • You are worried about your child.
  • Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
  • Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.
  • Your child seems very tired or irritable.

Dial 999 for an ambulance if:

  • your baby is having difficulty breathing
  • your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
  • there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
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Business

University to host industry summit online

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SUPPORTING industry’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic is a key priority for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

The University has a track record for working with industry through knowledge transfer, research innovation, workforce development and by providing a ready pipeline of skilled students and graduates, in partnership with employers.

In addition, UWTSD’s MADE Cymru initiative was established to support manufacturing industries in Wales to adapt to the challenges of Industry 4.0.

The initiative, funded by the EU via the Welsh Government, aims to support the economic recovery of manufacturers in Wales by offering part and fully funded training to businesses to upskill staff, as well as research and development that improves processes and products to reduce waste and costs.

In addition, UWTSD and MADE Cymru have organised an Industry Summit to be held online between June 8-10 to inform, engage and inspire businesses during this critical period of post-Covid recovery.

Expert speakers will be sharing their insights including James Davies from Industry Wales, Carol Hall, Regional Investment Manager, Development Bank of Wales, Chris Probert, Innovation Specialist, Welsh Government and Geraint Jones, Knowledge Transfer Adviser at KTN.

The line-up also includes Welsh manufacturers who will be sharing their own experiences, including Tim Hawkins, Managing Director, Markes International, Julia Chesney-Roberts, Commercial Manager, Riversimple, Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh and Jacques Bonfrer, Co-Founder and Team Lead, Bot-Hive.

There will be guest talks from circular economy expert Eoin Bailey and lean author Daryl Powell and an opportunity to find out about the range of services offered by the University.

Graham Howe, Executive Head of the MADE Cymru project at UWTSD says: “This Industry Summit aims to explore issues and challenges facing manufacturing in Wales so that we can work together with employers to find solutions. 

“We always start with asking a manufacturer what their biggest problem is today and look at how we can help them with it.

“We aim to unravel potentially confusing challenges like these. Our approach begins by looking at what companies need to increase their productivity and competitiveness.

“We aim to lead the businesses we work with through a journey of continuous improvement – a journey that makes the most of Industry 4.0 technologies and their ever-growing digital capabilities to help solve the specific problems faced by each company.

“All of the feedback we receive from businesses shapes our curriculum – we want to produce employable, digitally literate graduates who can contribute to their workplace from day one”.

Alison Orrells is CEO and Managing Director of Safety Letterbox and has been one of the organisations participating in the MADE Cymru initiative.

She said: “It was important to keep innovating and investing to set us apart and come out stronger. It’s been intense but we had a game plan – now it is all about business future-proofing, being agile, collaborations and being adaptable.”

Covid-19 has affected every part of a business and shifted the focus from production to survival.

UWTSD recently led a round table discussion with Welsh manufacturers about the future of manufacturing in Wales.

That discussion found that their outlook is positive about the future.

Manufacturers accelerated their adoption of new technologies to enhance and optimise production.

With many employees on furlough, managers took the opportunity to rethink and invest in better IT, particularly communications, training and diversified into new product areas. They looked to local colleges and universities to help shift perceptions of jobs in manufacturing and demonstrated the career opportunities and pathways available.

They also loosened their reliance on overseas imports and looked for suppliers in the UK to minimise future risk of disruption.

All sessions of the Industry Summit are free to attend and places can be booked on the UWTSD website: https://uwtsd.ac.uk/made/made-cymru-industry-summit/

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Education

A long road back for education

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EVEN before schools find out what the new normal will be, the pressure is already on the education system to deliver significantly more.

Some talk about a ‘lost generation’ needing to ’catch-up’ amid concerns those comments stigmatise children. However, the reality is that children have missed months of face-to-face teaching, and that has inescapable consequences.

DISADVANTAGED SLIP FURTHER BEHIND

Wales’s learners have been part of the pandemic’s ‘collateral damage.’

Although, for now, there are more questions than answers, solutions to repair that ‘damage’ will need to be carefully considered and delivered during the Welsh Parliament’s sixth term.

Even before the pandemic, Wales already faced an uphill struggle to secure good educational outcomes for all its learners.

The most disadvantaged learners have extra challenges which can prevent them from achieving their full potential.

Even though the previous Welsh Government invested £585 million since 2012 through the Pupil Development Grant (PDG), the attainment gap it was seeking to close, didn’t narrow.

It also typically widens as learners get older.

There’s a stark difference between children eligible for free school meals and their peers at Key Stage 4, the two years where learners usually take GCSEs and other examinations.

Children and young people themselves are well placed to give their verdict.

A 2021 Children’s Commissioner survey of 20,000 children found that 35% didn’t feel confident about their learning, compared to 25% in May 2020. 

63% of 12–18-year-olds were worried about falling behind.

There are countless reports setting out adults’ views about how missing more than half a year of ‘face-to-face’ schooling has affected learners.

One of the major concerns is the variation between what schools have delivered to pupils.

There’s a long list of potential impacts:

·        ‘Lost learning’ meaning pupils could underperform academically and have their long-term prospects affected.

·        A loss of confidence in the examination and assessment system.

·        Long-term reductions in school attendance, a factor known to be key to educational outcomes.

·        Difficult transitions between school years and from primary to secondary.

·        Challenges in re-engaging learners and addressing low motivation.

·        An unhelpful ‘catch up’ narrative about lost learning placing unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people; and

·        A negative effect on learners’ ability and confidence to communicate in Welsh where they haven’t been able to do so at home.

WIDER EFFECTS

As well as these obvious educational issues, there are wider predicted effects.

Current learners could earn less, with one estimate of up to £40,000 in a lifetime.

The harm to children’s physical health and a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are also serious concerns.

 The pandemic’s wider economic impact is also likely to increase the number of children living in low-income families.

Again, it’s the most disadvantaged learners who are predicted to bear the brunt in the longer term.

For example, in March 2021, the Child Poverty Action Group found that 35% of low-income families responding to its UK wide survey were still without essential resources for learning, with laptops and devices most commonly missing.

The Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee heard that there is “plenty of evidence” that” there are striking differences between families in terms of their ability to support young people in their learning: the resources they have around them, the enthusiasm, the engagement, the commitment”.

REBUILDING TRUST

There must be work to rebuild relationships that have been under significant strain during the past 12 months.

Those between teaching unions and the decision-makers within the education system; between parents/carers and schools; and perhaps, most importantly, re-establishing the relationship between learners and their teachers.

Some of the immediate solutions which are already on the table or up for discussion are: more money, including the ‘Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards funding’; more teachers and learning assistants on the ground; changing term times; and setting up summer schools, holiday clubs and home tuition.

However, the longer-term problems are far harder to solve.

One estimate puts the cost of Wales’s journey back from COVID-19 at £1.4 bn to meet the challenges to the education system alone.

The opportunity exists for major reform and an examination of the whole approach to and aim of education.

Children and young people’s return to the classroom has been heralded as a big chance to put their well-being at the heart of education. As well as having a positive impact on well-being, put, mentally healthy children are much more likely to learn.

Following pressure from the Fifth Senedd’s CYPE Committee and its stakeholders, Wales has already made a significant shift towards establishing a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’. The challenge during the Sixth Senedd will be to deliver it.

PERMANENT CHANGE

The potential sting in the tail is that, at the same time, the education system is getting children back to school, it also contends with major legislative reform.

This is in the form of wholesale changes to both the school curriculum and support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.

Some may argue that there’s been no better time to have such significant changes.

If the education system can successfully implement these three major reforms, arguably Wales will complete significant leg work and be on a firmer footing to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19.

At this stage there may be many more questions than answers for the education system.

The world into which learners will move has changed forever.

Not only has the pandemic interrupted their schooling, but the future journeys they were expected to make into the workplace or further and higher education could be unrecognisable.

The skills and aptitudes needed in the ‘new normal’ are only now beginning to be identified and are likely to be different from those needed before the pandemic began.   

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