Supply teachers set to sue Scottish Government over pay cut

Sumera Tarbard, a maths teacher in Glasgow, at her home in South Lanarkshire. She set up the Scottish Supply Teachers Network after a deal was struck hitting their pay levels. Photograph: Robert Perry
Sumera Tarbard, a maths teacher in Glasgow, at her home in South Lanarkshire. She set up the Scottish Supply Teachers Network after a deal was struck hitting their pay levels. Photograph: Robert Perry
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SUPPLY teachers are planning to take legal action against the Scottish Government over a deal that has seen their pay effectively cut in half, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

Members of the Scottish Supply Teachers Network, set up by Sumera Tarbard, a mathematics teacher from Glasgow, are consulting with lawyers over how best to challenge the changes to their terms and conditions.

Under new working arrangements, introduced last year, supply teachers now earn just £78 a day before tax, compared to around £150 before. They must work five consecutive days in the same class at the same school before they can return to the former, higher rate of pay.

Critics of the deal have warned that Scotland is facing a “classroom crisis”, with more than 90 per cent of short-term supply requests not being filled in some parts of the country.

The issue was raised again last week when education secretary Mike Russell announced that supply teachers would be used to plug gaps while permanent staff received extra training ahead of the introduction of the new National exams, as part of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Tarbard said: “We at the Scottish Supply Teachers Network have had an initial consultation with a firm of employment solicitors to find out where we stand.

“We have been advised that there may be scope to mount a legal challenge in respect of our case and they have indicated they would be willing to pursue this on our behalf. We are currently in discussions with our members with a view to taking this forward.”

She said shortages in supply cover meant that some schools were employing teachers to provide lessons in subjects they were not qualified to teach.

“Things are so difficult at the moment,” Tarbard added. “Supply work is difficult anyway because you are going into schools you don’t know and teaching children you’ve never met. Since we announced this action, I have had so many emails from people saying they have left teaching.

“Some supply teachers already felt they were marginalised and this pay deal seems to have proven that – that supply teachers are not worth the same as permanent staff.”

Last week, Russell said an extra £3.5 million was being made available for schools to help find cover for those teachers who are to be given more training on preparing for the National exams, which are being introduced in 2013-14. According to a survey of local authorities carried out by Scottish Labour, 84 per cent of councils have experienced problems in fulfilling requests for short-term cover in the wake of the controversial pay deal.

Labour’s education spokesman, Hugh Henry, said: “The key measure announced by Mike Russell was £3.5m to pay for supply teachers to free up teachers to prepare for the new curriculum. However, with 84 per cent of local authorities struggling to fill requests for supply, it ignores the crisis that exists in supply teacher recruitment. To ensure this money is spent as effectively as possible, the SNP government needs to provide our local authorities with adequate resources to scrap the unfair and unjust supply teacher pay deal as soon as possible.

“Not only do supply teachers deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but effective implementation of the new curriculum will require action to resolve this problem. If the SNP does not scrap this deal, there is a real risk the new curriculum will be plunged into further chaos.”

Donald Macdonald, a former supply teacher who quit following the introduction of new pay deal, said times were tougher than ever for the profession.

Macdonald, who managed to find work teaching cycling proficiency after quitting supply teaching, said: “I could not have kept going on the rates that were being paid for supply. The past couple of years I have just been doing day by day. I managed five days at one school right at the start of the school year, which I only got paid 25 hours for. Financially, I just could not survive.

“I want to teach, but I could not keep a roof over my head with supply rates. If I had been going for lots of full-time jobs and not getting interviews, I would have been worried, but there are just no jobs coming up. Getting a full-time job is the ultimate goal, but supply keeps your hand in and gets your face known.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers is monitoring the impact of the changes to the terms and conditions of short-term supply teachers.

“We will play our part in the tripartite discussions and will take action if there is concrete evidence that a real problem is emerging.”