UK: Report fails to address substitute teachers’ conditions

Commenting on the release of the Taylor Review into Modern Working Practices, education unions in the United Kingdom have expressed great disappointment at its failure to address the ongoing exploitation of substitute teachers by many employment agencies.

According to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), the Taylor Review, released on 11 July, fails to make key recommendations. Despite acknowledging that a lack of regulatory enforcement was enabling unscrupulous employers to get away with abuse, discrimination and unfair working practices, the review does not recommend Government intervention towards many employment agencies, whose practices continue to deny supply teachers access to deserved employment rights and fair levels of pay.

“This report fails to address the misery, woeful treatment and exploitation experienced by thousands of supply teachers working for agencies,” said NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates. “This is a huge missed opportunity, only compounded by the suggestion that there is no need for Government to act.”

While new ways of working and employing people are constantly being created, exploitation “is as old as the hills”, she said, noting that the test for all these recommendations must be: “Do they effectively tackle exploitation and prevent those who would engage in it from being able to do so?”

Leaving the profession

She went on to explain that the failure to truly address this issue, especially in school environments, is not only leading to many great teachers being driven out of the profession, but is “all the more shocking” given the review’s suggestion that teachers need to take greater responsibility for educating young people for the future world of work.

In a NASUWT survey of supply teachers last May, more than 40 per cent reported that, although they were employed to perform duties as a qualified teacher, they were only offered unqualified rates of pay. This is on top of being denied access to rights such as sick pay, training and annual leave and, in many cases, being forced to pay a payroll fee and fund their employer’s National Insurance contributions as well as their own.

The Government must act immediately and take direct action to strengthen the enforcement of the Agency Workers’ Regulations if it is to genuinely deliver fairness at work for agency workers, Keates insisted, adding that it must also set out a coherent strategy that secures the rights of all workers.

‘Modern practices’ more costly

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) also raised concerns about the report outcomes. “Modern employment practices leave insecure workers dependent and exploited,” said NUT Assistant General Secretary Amanda Brown.

The aim in the report that “legislation does more of the work” relies on compliant, transparent employment practices which are not recognised by teachers on zero hours contracts or working as supply teachers, she said. 

“Adding to the definitions of precarious worker will not protect those in insecure work,” Brown added. “We see no rights and no guarantees in a 'right to request guaranteed hours’.”

The only anticipated guarantee is that that worker will not work again, she said, acknowledging that “teachers working in insecure work need transparency, a baseline of rights and access to enforce those rights”.

Penalties for exploitation

Teachers have been exploited by supply teacher agencies and umbrella companies and their work dries up the moment they ask a question about their rights, she highlighted. Principles are beneficial but there will be no ‘good work’ unless enforceable rights and penalties against those who exploit vulnerable workers are guaranteed, she reaffirmed.

Brown further stated that the report does not mention the fact that some of these ‘modern practices’ actually cost far more than the alternatives in areas such as supply teaching where agencies drain millions of pounds away from education into their profits. In such cases, she said, new systems offering direct employment would benefit everyone, saving schools substantial amounts while also offering teachers appropriate pay reflecting their qualifications and experience.

Background

UK Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned a review last October on employment practices in the modern economy, led by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of the Arts and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Head of Policy. The latter worked closely with Recruitment and Employment Confederation members and government officials to feed in to this review, which has looked at broader labour market issues including skills, progression and worker voice, and underlined the key role that compliant agencies can provide in Taylor’s vision of good work.

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