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A perfect storm of Omicron related absences, schools’ finances drained by Covid, and a crisis in supply of substitute and supply teachers has left schools facing unprecedented staffing pressures. 

In a last-minute move, Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi MP, has written to school leaders urging them to encourage ex-teachers to return to the school workforce currently strained by understaffing. Yet the letter, issued the day before most schools close for the term, may be too little too late to address the serious issues schools are facing. 

According to the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, the supply teacher market crisis is being compounded by supply agencies offering low pay and significant delays in obtaining DBS clearances, which are preventing supply teachers from being deployed in schools to help solve the current staffing crisis. In some parts of the country, clearance can take as long as two months to be obtained, leaving classrooms without staff and supply teachers without income. 

Responding to the Education Secretary’s letter to school leaders, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said: 

“Asking former teachers to return to the profession may have some publicity merit, but it does not address the immediate and acute staffing pressures being faced by schools. This gesture will simply not guarantee that all schools will have the teachers they need when they reopen at the start of next term.

“Far more action is needed to improve the current market for supply teachers, which is nothing short of a national scandal. The Government must address the delays with DBS clearances and meet the costs of DBS certification so those teachers who do return to the profession are not left paying the bill. 
 
“It is also staggering that the Government believes that supply agencies offer the solution to current teacher supply shortages when they are a key part of the problem. Supply agencies are creaming off substantial profits at the expense of schools and the taxpayer whilst employing teachers on the cheap. Many supply teachers have left the profession simply because they don’t feel valued or respected for the work they do. These are urgent matters that the Government must deal with.

“Due to additional Covid pressures, schools across the country have run out of the cash they need to employ more supply teachers. School leaders will need assurances that in order for them to cover staff absences and remain open to pupils, the Government will guarantee to provide financial reimbursement when schools deploy supply staff to cover for any Covid-related staff absences.

“If Ministers are sincere about minimising disruption to education, they must urgently look to establish alternative arrangements which will deliver a better deal for all supply teachers and respond effectively to local needs.
 
“Without guarantees from the Government on teachers’ pay and working conditions, the teacher supply crisis will continue for some time to come.”

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