Perhaps it was a conscious decision to choose October 5th as the annual date to celebrate World Teachers’ Day, beyond the anniversary of the UNESCO declaration protecting the status of teachers.

After all, the autumn term is often described as the hardest term of the year. 

It's long and feels even longer as days get shorter, darker and colder. Every teacher has a brand-new classroom to manage and mould to their rules, setting standards and establishing their leadership, whilst having to plan and look ahead to summer term exams and assessments. Many teachers are starting a new school or even their first ever job as an NQT. What better time to be appreciated than five or six weeks into the first term? And, what better time to be appreciated than in the UK in 2018.

Many articles published today will celebrate what deserves to be celebrated. The ability to change lives, the passion for learning, the propelling of pupils above and beyond what might otherwise be expected, the pastoral care and the creation of safe but stretching spaces. Teachers are heroes.

Other articles will focus on the ever-increasing challenges. World Teachers’ Day is, as you might expect, a global celebration of teachers across continents. Yet the average age of teachers is falling in the UK. In 2013, the OECD found that 39 was the typical age of teachers in England’s secondary schools – almost four years younger than the global average. Other research (conducted by the most recent Department of Education’s school workforce census) points to the fact that nearly a quarter of the teacher workforce is under 30 (24.3%), whilst the percentage of teachers aged between 50 and 60 is just 13%. 15% of the 2016 intake of newly qualified teachers (the latest figures released) left the profession after just a year.

The reasons for youth and enthusiasm as well as age and experience leaving the profession, is well documented elsewhere. The hours, the stress, the bureaucracy, the pay, the budget cuts.

At GRI, we have another unique window into UK schools, the challenges that are faced and those that must be surmounted. As workforce management experts for schools and colleges, we work with educational establishments to reduce expensive recruitment agency fees for the provision of supply teachers.

Supply teachers are a key lynchpin of a school’s ability to manage sickness and absence. Sickness and absence that, whether it is inevitable or not (flu versus mental health), happens. A total of 2.14 million days were lost to sickness absence last year* – which, although lower than in all previous years, since records began still equates to nearly 7.5 days sick per teacher taking sickness absence. 7.5 days which need covering.

Supply teachers are obviously also used for longer-term bookings, for example to cover maternity or even when schools have failed to attract appropriate permanent candidates for positions due to start imminently.

On World Teachers' Day it is particularly pertinent to recognise the often-overlooked efforts of a hidden cohort – the fantastic supply teachers across the UK, who help to ensure continuity and attainment across UK classrooms.

But of course, where it gets contentious is the cost of supply. Not the wages of the supply teachers themselves, but the fees agencies charge for finding supply teachers at short notice.

Figures from maintained schools in England in 2015-16 show a spend of £1.3 billion* (or £58,699 on average, per school per year) on directly-employed supply teachers, agency supply teachers and supply teacher insurance.

Supply teacher recruitment agencies have an extremely valuable part to play in the recruitment process.

We should know, we have contractual relationships with over 20% of the UK’s recruitment firms. These agencies work with GRI and our clients, signing up to commercially negotiated margins and rigorous standards. But paying a fair rate for providing a superlative service is one thing, paying overinflated costs to substandard agencies is another. GRI recently analysed thousands of supply agency invoices (not already on our GRI contracted panel) across 60 schools. As part of our investigations we found agency charges varied from £44 a day to £74 a day for supplying exactly the same teacher profile. 

On the flipside, we also found occasions where the cheapest agency charge rates were unfortunately indicative of unreliable or below calibre candidates and poor compliance.

From our analysis, we identified potential savings of 14% for standard teacher rates and up to 20% for specialist roles, if charge rates were negotiated down to a fairer rate. We also identified the potential benefits of an agency panel that would compete on quality of candidate, therefore further driving up standards.

GRI was subsequently engaged by the schools to renegotiate their agency charges, onboard agencies onto fairer contracts with more robust KPIs, and then manage and police agency supply, whilst ensuring fulfilment. Our program has been incredibly successful with over £300,000 pounds worth of savings generated across the schools (on average £5,000 per school) that would otherwise have gone to paying supply recruitment agencies.

As schools up and down the country look to how to fund the government’s announced 3.5% pay-rise for teachers (of which schools will need to fund the first 1%), there is an increasing spotlight on already stretched budgets. With an average teacher pay of £37,900 in primary schools and £40,600 in secondary schools, a 1% increase would cost £379 per teacher in primaries and £406 in secondaries.

Given an average school typically has 19 teachers (with primaries typically between 7 and 12)** a 1% increase could amount to, on average, c.£7,000 per school. An additional cost that could be majority funded through the GRI model of managing supply agencies.

We are also talking to schools about achieving even more significant cost savings through not just reducing agency charges by a percentage, but by removing the need to use agencies at all through helping schools implement or better manage their bank staff/talent pool.

When World Teachers' Day was set up, it was with the UNESCO aim of appreciating, assessing and improving the educators of the world and to provide an opportunity to consider issues related to teachers and teaching. We hope that our service delivers a window of insight into a key budget issue that impacts schools and teachers today, and that our model provides a welcome solution to something that ultimately takes place outside of the classroom, so that teachers and schools can get on with doing what they do best.

*Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017 

**Source: Based on Department for Education statistics of the number of teachers in state funded schools divided by the number of state funded schools.

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