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Academy trust blames agency charges after supply staff spending doubles to £1.2m

PUBLISHED: 05:30 20 February 2020 | UPDATED: 08:55 20 February 2020

Tim Coulson from the Unity Schools Partnership Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP

Tim Coulson from the Unity Schools Partnership Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP

UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP

One of the region’s biggest academy trusts is calling on agencies to cut profits after its supply staff bill more than doubled to over £1.2m last year.

Graham White, Suffolk NEU Picture: CONTRIBUTEDGraham White, Suffolk NEU Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Unity Schools Partnership, which runs 23 schools, mainly in Suffolk and north Essex, said it would be teaming up with other providers in a bid to cut the massive rise in agency spending.

Unions say Suffolk is facing a crisis in recruiting and retaining teachers making many academies more reliant on supply staff - and have criticised some agencies for profiting from the situation.

It has seen the total spend on supply staff at trusts operating in the region increase by almost a fifth from 2018-19, according to Companies House reports.

The USP, whose schools include the Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard, has recorded one of the biggest spending increases up from £530,000 in 2018 to £1,219,000 last year.

Chief executive Tim Coulson said the increase related to covering absent staff and employing long-term staff from agencies. "Supply agency charges are too high and we are working with other trusts to put pressure on agencies to reduce their profit margins," he added.

Graham White, of the National Education Union, warned some schools were spending more on supply staff because teachers were suffering mental ill health due to working conditions. Mr White also criticised supply agencies which he claimed were profiting excessively, while paying supply workers less.

Jack Abbott, Labour's education spokesman at Suffolk County Council said he was not surprised by the increasing reliance on supply teachers given the "recruitment crisis" faced by the profession. "Having constantly changing teachers can be detrimental to a child's learning and temporarily filling vacancies in this way comes at a huge financial cost for schools," he added. "Much more needs to be done to recruit and retain quality teachers, especially at a time when pupil numbers are rising."

"Addressing teacher workloads, introducing more flexible working opportunities and offering better incentives, particularly for early-career teachers, would be an important start."

Labour's education spokesman at Suffolk County Council Jack Abbott  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLabour's education spokesman at Suffolk County Council Jack Abbott Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Karen Grimes, CEO of the John Milton Academy Trust, where supply spending increased also highlighted challenges in recruiting permanent teachers.

Asset Education and Orwell Multi-Academy Trust said their spending increase was due to investment in teacher training, which required agency cover.

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None of the supply agencies we contacted wanted to comment.

Constantly changing teachers can have a detrimental impact on learning Picture: GETTY IMAGES / ISTOCKPHOTOConstantly changing teachers can have a detrimental impact on learning Picture: GETTY IMAGES / ISTOCKPHOTO

Government launches tool to help schools get value for money

An online tool was launched last month to help schools avoid agencies that charge excessive fees.

The Government-endorsed tool shows the fees recruitment agencies charge on top of staff wages so school leaders know what they are getting for their money.

Announcing the launch, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "I want to help schools use their resources as effectively as possible.

"There will always be a role for supply teachers within schools but schools shouldn't be ripped off when trying to recruit them.

"This new online tool will bring much-need transparency to the fees that agencies charge to enable school leaders to see what they are getting for their money."

Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, has told all schools in England about the online tool, which has been developed with Crown Commercial Service.

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