Blackpool schools in cash crisis over teacher sickness

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Cash-strapped schools have been left counting the cost of a surge in teacher sickness levels as budgets continue to feel the pinch.

As unions warn of a “funding crisis” following a new report showing the squeeze on school finances, supply teacher agencies are being accused of exploiting teacher shortages to charge exorbitant fees.

Schools are facing a financial crisis

Schools are facing a financial crisis

Almost 6,000 teaching days were lost in Blackpool in a single year, the latest figures show – one of the highest absence rates in the country.

The National Education Union has called on the Government to do more to stop supply agencies charging large fees to schools already struggling financially.

The Department for Education estimates this costs schools up to £75m a year nationally.

In, Blackpool, schools lost 5,908 days to teacher sickness over a 12-month period, DfE figures published last year show. It marked a large increase from 4,348 the previous year.

It means schools had to cover an average of 5.5 days’ absence for every full-time equivalent member of staff – 25 per cent higher than the national average.

Based on the average daily rate of £124, it would cost Blackpool schools more than £730,000 a year to plug the gap with supply teachers.

But unions says this does not include the “substantial” and undisclosed fees that agencies charge schools. The National Union of Teachers claimed some agencies charged up to £100 per day.

Andrew Morris, assistant general secretary of the NEU, said: “Supply agencies cream off millions of pounds every year from schools, charging them substantial fees while paying supply teachers appallingly.

“The DfE is actively supporting agencies when it could be adopting a Northern Ireland model, where a Government-backed scheme puts schools and supply teachers in direct contact, saving schools money and paying teachers more.”

According to a NEU survey, 81 per cent of supply teachers now get work through agencies nationally, as opposed to 50 per cent in 2010.

Supply teachers are also asked to fill temporary positions at schools, for a contract period of between one and three terms.

In Blackpool, according to the November 2017 school workforce census, the most recently published, there were three vacant posts and another seven filled only on a temporary basis.

Almost one in five schools – 17 per cent – reported at least one vacancy or temporarily filled role.

However, if a school wants to make a temporary teacher permanent, they will have to pay a finder’s fee to the agency.

Last summer, Education Secretary Damian Hinds launched a website to link schools directly with supply teachers.

He said: “Every pound that’s spent on excessive agency fees, or on advertising jobs, is a pound that I want to help schools spend on what really matters.”

Schools are also using AirBnB style apps to dodge expensive agency add-ons.

Slava Kremerman, co-founder of supply teacher app Zen Educate, explained: “When I speak to headteachers, they tell me about the long mornings spent on the phone trying to find teacher cover, only to be slapped with massive fees at the end of the day.”

He says apps and websites mean “less time spent on the phone, and more money to spend on books, sport equipment and computers”.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “We have launched a national deal to support schools with getting value for money when hiring agency supply teachers and other temporary staff.

“The deal includes a list of preferred suppliers who are open about the rates they charge, and also help schools to avoid finders fees.”