Covid: Lack of supply staff leaves schools ‘desperate’ says teaching union

by Emily Price.

A teaching union has said that a severe shortage in supply teachers has left schools in Wales struggling to stay open.

Staff off work isolating or looking after family members ill with Covid 19 has meant supply teachers are in high demand. 

But the supply teacher system is unable to cope and whole classes and year groups are having to stay at home.  

Policy Officer for the teaching union UCAC, Rebecca Williams, said: “Right now the situation is looking very desperate.

UCAC Policy Officer Rebecca Williams

“There is a really high level of absence of teachers at the moment because of Covid and there just isn’t enough supply teachers out there to step in.”

Rebecca Williams says UCAC has been raising concerns for a long time about private agencies and the supply system: 

“Agencies don’t treat the supply workforce well. Many agency workers don’t get sick pay and are not part of the teachers’ pension scheme.

“Why would you take the very high risk of going into a school, catching Covid and being off work with no pay?”

Jack Coles oversees the primary sector for South Wales and Bristol at teaching agency Teaching Personnel in Cardiff.

He says that although teaching agencies are a business and need to make money, they are also making a difference in schools:

“Schools just don’t know what’s around the corner right now. I have never had so many teachers on the books, but all of them are out working.

“I understand that some agencies have a bad name, but we are looking to improve the system in the long term.”

At Ysgol y Preseli in Crymych, Pembrokeshire, Covid is putting pressure on pupils and the workplace with many teachers having to self-isolate.

Photo by Manon John

Head of Sixth Form, Nia Williams, said: “We’re having similar problems to other schools in the county and beyond with staff shortages caused by the pandemic.

“Many staff are self-isolating or just at home waiting for the results of Covid tests. We have had to call in help from teaching agencies which has come at a concerning financial cost to the school.”

The Welsh Government has said there are routes in place for schools to recruit supply staff during periods of increased absence. 

A spokesperson said: “We are committed to a review of the current model of the engagement of supply teachers in Wales and want to develop a sustainable model for supply teaching, with fair work at its heart.

“This review follows recommendations made both by the Senedd’s Petitions Committee and the Wales Audit Office.”

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