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Education

Call for Fair Deal for Supply Teachers?

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Schools can choose to ignore national framework: Carwyn Jones

A PROTEST is to take place outside the Senedd building in Cardiff on October 25 to draw attention to the treatment of supply teachers in Wales.

Fair Deal for Supply Teachers is organising the demonstration to protest the situation which sees experienced teachers placed into schools – often on a long-term basis – while earning significantly less than a newly qualified teacher.

SUPPLY TEACHERS PAY FALLING

Typically, supply teachers take on the full role of an absent teacher at lower pay and without job security, holiday pay, or pension.

However, supply teachers often – if not usually – cost schools more to employ because of the charges levied by employment agencies for their services. An employment agency typically charges a premium to the school on the daily rate for a teacher.

The position of supply teachers deteriorated significantly under the last Labour government, which allows schools to employ non-qualified ‘cover supervisors’ to run classes during short-term teacher absences. That system has grown to be a source of significant abuse as cash-strapped schools are faced with choosing between paying high agency fees for temporary staff or relying on cheaper and unqualified alternatives.

The increasing dominance of agencies, the cost of agency teachers and the current education funding crisis all mean that the use of the supply teacher is under threat.

The plight of supply teachers has been the subject of a number of campaigns over recent years, none of them meeting with a significant measure of success or substantial and lasting change. It appears as though, while many fine words are spoken about the issue, there is a lack of political will to ensure that children are taught by qualified teachers during staff absences and to break the hold of teachers’ employment agencies in the education market.

To compound matters, some Welsh local authorities which had their own supply teaching pools, scrapped them and outsourced the provision of supply teachers to large agencies on the basis that it would save money. It has not and – as is often the case – a clever book-keeping exercise has ended up increasing costs. Rates charged for agency staff are higher than ever and the effective monopoly exercised in Wales has seen the costs of supply teachers soar with no benefit for the staff supplied, while the effective hourly rate for supply teachers has fallen to – in some cases – little better than £8 or £9 per hour.

According to the NUT, the average daily charge to schools by a supply agency for a teacher can be as much as £100 more than the amount paid to that teacher. Every time a supply teacher is engaged in this way, taxpayers’ money is funnelled into the pockets of private agencies.

​SUPPLY TEACHERS ‘DEMORALISED’

In Wales, supply teachers’ concerns were raised last week by Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow spokesperson on education.

Speaking to BBC Wales, Llyr Gruffydd said he had been approached “by a number of very demoralised supply teachers”.

He told the BBC that one teacher who had approached him said she could only find supply work in Denbighshire through an agency and this left her £115 a day pay reduced to £85.

“Another is considering giving up a job he’s done for 18 years because of the drastic cut in pay and lack of any personal development or pension payments,” he said.

“What was wrong with the previous system whereby schools worked with supply staff directly and paid teachers properly without exploiting them? It was very simple and worked for decades.”

​HAMILTON PRESSES JONES

The cause of supply teachers was raised by UKIP during questions to the First Minister on Tuesday ​(​Oct 17​)​.

Highlighting the Welsh Government’s criticism of the so-called ‘gig economy’ and zero hour contracts, Mr Hamilton asked whether supply teachers in Wales were in no better a position that the Uber drivers Labour-supporting unions are keen to see turfed out a job.

Mr Hamilton continued: “Some supply teachers are turning to pizza delivery to make ends meet, and supply teachers are voting with their feet and leaving and looking for alternative employment. Does the First Minister think that this is an acceptable situation?”

Carwyn Jones said the situation was not acceptable but that the question of teachers’ pay would not be devolved to Wales until next year.

He went on to say: “We have a supply teaching working group, which is looking at ways to boost the employment prospects and, indeed, income of supply teachers, and that is exactly what we plan to take forward.”

Not satisfied with the First Minister’s response, Mr Hamilton pressed on: “As the First Minister will probably know, supply teachers in England on average are paid about £130 a day, but in Cardiff that’s on average £90 to £95 a day, and in west Wales it’s as low as £80 a day.

“Agencies are charging schools above the rate for teachers on main scale 1- 4, and teachers with 20 years’ experience, therefore, can be paid less than a newly qualified teacher who’s permanently employed.”

He pointed out that scarcely seemed a fair wage.

The First Minister continued to avoid the issue by shifting the blame on to the schools for supply teachers’ poor pay and conditions and then suggesting that complete consistency would involve the removal of local management from them.

“The changing of the system away from LMS would require primary legislation, inevitably, and these are issues that Members will have to consider over the next few months. But, in the meantime, what we intend to do is use the working group that we’ve put together to improve the conditions of supply teachers, while at the same time considering the best outcome in the longer term.”

​WELSH GOVERNMENT SHOULD USE PERSUASION

Spotting the flaw in the First Minister’s response, Neil Hamilton pointed out: “Schools come under the regulation of local authorities—the responsibility of local authorities at any rate—and, of course, the Welsh Government is responsible for funding those schools and has great persuasive authority, even if it doesn’t have the legal authority.

“The effect has been that, for public sector workers in general, who have had a pay cap for the last 10 years, supply teachers have done a good deal worse and many of them have had a pay cut in effect of up to 40​% in the last 15 years. Also, many of these supply contracts have a clause in them, which you have to accept or else you don’t get the job, saying, ‘I accept that I will not be paid according to agency worker regulations.’ Is the Welsh Government going to do something specific about these abuses?”

JONES BLAMES SCHOOLS

Ignoring the invitation for the Welsh Government to bring pressure to bear on local authorities, Carwyn Jones responded: “These are issues that are being considered in advance of the devolution of pay and conditions. He said that local authorities are responsible. Schools are responsible for employing their supply teachers and, of course, if schools wish to employ supply teachers in a different way, rather than going through agencies, then that will be open to them. But with this being devolved in the very near future, this now gives us the opportunity to deal with these issues, which I recognise because I’ve had constituents come in to explain this to me as well, in a way that wasn’t possible before in the absence of devolution.”

​ONE AGENCY FOR 22 COUNCILS

It appeared as though Mr Jones was either not prepared to acknowledge or was unaware that 22 of Wales local authorities out of 22 have entered a ‘Managed Service Provider’ agreement for the supply of staff with only one teacher supply agency, making the ability of schools to directly employ supply staff behind those agreements more than a little doubtful.

That framework was set out by the Welsh Government’s own National Procurement System and states: ‘All 22 Local Authorities have signed up to use the Framework Agreements that the NPS put in place, and as such they will EXPECT (emphasis added) their schools to use New Directions, through the framework to meet their supply teacher requirement, though there is no compulsion to do so. Where schools opt to utilise other supply agencies it would be good practice for agencies to engage with the schools they provide services to, providing assurances to head teachers that the responsibilities listed in this section are being maintained by the agency’.

While that suggests that there is no compulsion to use New Directions’ services, the fact that they are Preferred Supplier backed by the Welsh Government and the subject of contractual arrangements with the local authorities that hold the schools’ purse strings indicates that the schools have little more than Hobson’s Choice.

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Education

Is targeted funding raising school standards?

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Lynne Neagle: Making sure funding going to right areas

A NEW inquiry will look at the Welsh Government’s approach to targeted funding in Welsh schools, and whether this has helped to improve the performance and standards of specific groups of pupils and schools.

The National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee will be focusing on the Welsh Government’s Pupil Development Grant (PDG), and the now ended Schools Challenge Cymru programme (SCC).

More than £90m a year is spent on PDG, which specifically works towards helping children in more deprived areas at primary and secondary level. Schools Challenge Cymru focused on raising attainment levels at those secondary schools facing the greatest challenges in improving. Over its three years SCC cost around £40m.

Figures show that, while the number of pupils benefitting from PDG and who achieved five or more GCSEs at A*-C grade had risen over a decade, there was a sharp decrease from 71.6% in 2016 to 41.1% in 2017.

Schools Challenge Cymru had shown an improvement in 23 out of 39 schools with more pupils attaining five or more GCSEs at A*-C grade. However, a number of other schools saw a deterioration in standards with five dropping into the red band in the Welsh Government’s national school band scale.

“Raising the attainment levels of pupils in Wales’ most deprived areas is a key priority for the Welsh Government,” said Lynne Neagle AM, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

“It is critical that every child in Wales has a high standard of education and the same opportunities as everyone else, regardless of their circumstances.

“The recent fall in standards in schools in receipt of the Pupil Development Grant is particularly concerning and goes against the general trend of improvement over the past decade.

“We will be looking at why that is and what schools and the regional education consortia are doing to make sure the millions of pounds set aside each year are going to the right areas in the right way.

“We will also be considering the impact of Schools Challenge Cymru and the consequences for the schools which benefitted from it now that the programme has come to an end.”

The Committee has launched a public consultation on targeted funding. Anyone wishing to contribute can found out more information on the Committee’s web pages. The deadline for the consultation is January 5, 2018.

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Education

Student finance ‘discriminates against women and mature students’

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Very friendly and supportive: Neil Hamilton

A WEST Wales mature student has alleged that Student Finance Wales discriminates against mature female students who have changed their name through marriage or divorce.

Tricia (not her real name) contacted The Herald after she experienced protracted delays in receiving student finance to which she was entitled having been made ‘to jump through hoops’ to prove she was who she said she was.

She encountered difficulties after applying for a one year top up from a HND to a BA.

The situation was rendered all the more frustrating as, Student Finance Wales had all of Tricia’s proof of identity from the previous year, when she completed her HND, access to all of the information submitted in connection with that award, and repeatedly told her that there was no information required from her before telling her on a number of occasions, and only when she rang to query the continuing delay, that further information was needed.

Tricia applied for student finance on June 14 and supporting information for her financial status was provided immediately to Student Finance Wales. Tricia had the same customer reference number, same email, same telephone contact number that she had used for her previous application.

Tricia was particularly exasperated as she had been through precisely the same rigmarole in proving her identity in her initial application two years before.

She told us: “Despite the fact that I applied early for student finance, after that earlier bad experience, I kept on being pushed from pillar to post. Even though ALL of my information was already held by Student Finance and they were writing to me at my home address, which I had already provided and proved, it was not until mid-August that Student Finance Wales asked for proof that I actually lived in Wales.

“Having sent that proof, I rang up to check everything was okay and was told that Student Finance Wales had all the information they needed to process my application.”

She continued: “Having waited for a few weeks and with the start of term already near, I rang to find out what was happening. I was then told that before my application could proceed that they wanted information for an application for a childcare grant, which I have never sought and had not asked for. I had to write a letter telling them this – unbelievably six weeks after acknowledging they had received that letter, the information is still shown as required.

“Anyway, I confirmed again that they now had all the material they needed. And was told they did. A few weeks passed and I had heard nothing. I rang again. This time they wanted me to provide both my birth certificate and a form signed by a third party confirming that I was me!

“I raised an immediate complaint and was told I would be sent a copy of that for my own information.”

On October 26, Tricia rang to confirm that all information had been received and make sure that nothing else was needed.

Tricia’s experience then entered the realms of the surreal. A friend verified her identity. The same person had verified her partner’s identity for their application for student finance and been accepted.

The proof of identity was rejected and during the phone call a claim was made that a letter to that effect had been sent out on October 20, which was remarkable in itself as the identity form had only been posted on October 19. Not only was there no sign of that letter’s arrival, there was no sign of it in the record of correspondence.

Tricia then raised the question of her previous complaint, only to be told there was no record of it. She was then told by a manager at Student Finance Wales that she was not entitled to see the content of any complaint raised by the company on her behalf, although that manager told her that she would now raise a complaint for her and notify her it had been raised.

After waiting a few days, and with no sign of a complaint being made, Tricia emailed a full complaint to Student Finance Wales and copied her constituency and regional AMs in along with Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams and the Assembly parties’ education spokespersons.

Response was swift. First to respond was Labour’s Joyce Watson who promised to raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary. That was followed by responses from Paul Davies – who helped resolve Tricia’s previous complaint – Simon Thomas, and UKIP’s Neil Hamilton who provided a very full and sympathetic response to Tricia’s plight; then, the Welsh Government contacted Tricia and asked for her permission to deal with Student Finance Wales on her behalf.

Finally, a day or so later, Tricia was emailed by Student Finance Wales to say that they were now acting on her complaint.

Mysteriously, the letter telling her that her identity proof was unacceptable arrived postmarked October 31, the same day as her complaint.

Within seven days of contacting her local AMs, Tricia was told that her student finance had been approved and that payments would be made shortly. She does not think that is a coincidence.

Tricia is, however, still frustrated by the whole experience.

“The situation had become ridiculous. I was being discriminated against for being an older woman, who had been married before. They not only had all my information already, they told me they could see it on the computer system and yet still said they needed it again. It’s bureaucracy for the sake of it. And as for not allowing customers to see complaints raised on their behalf, I bet their complaints clear up rate is stellar.

“Again, it was only when I complained and copied in AMs that there was any movement at all. That is not right and just makes me wonder how many students who have not contacted their own AMs have been forced out of higher education by Student Finance Wales incompetence.”

She concluded: “When I initially raised issues about the process way back in August I was told that I should blame the Welsh Government! To make matters worse, it had been suggested to me that I could get my parents to confirm my name change. I could, I suppose, have got a shovel or Ouija board, but neither of those options was very appealing!”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Llyr Gruffydd said: “Plaid Cymru believes education is a right not a privilege so we want to make sure there is fair play when it comes to Student Finance Wales regardless of age or gender.”

Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added: “A constituent has informed me of a formal complaint they have made regarding the way in which their application for student finance has been handled by Student Finance Wales. Their application for student finance has still not been processed – almost five months after the initial application was made.

“My constituent feels that Student Finance Wales indirectly discriminate on the grounds of age and gender.”

Simon Thomas has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education requesting the following information.

  • An outline of Student Finance Wales’ complaints procedure
  • The number of complaints received by Student Finance Wales each year in the last five years
  • A breakdown of the nature of the complaints received
  • An outline of the evidence of income and identity Student Finance Wales asks for in order to process a student’s application for student finance

Tricia’s constituency AM, Paul Davies told The Herald: “The experiences that Tricia has had with Student Finance Wales are deeply disappointing and caused her unnecessary distress, at a time when she should be focusing on her studies. It’s clear that there are failings in the system, which continue to be unaddressed and the Welsh Government should now commit to seriously reviewing Student Finance Wales’ operations.

“Sadly, this is not the first worrying experience that Tricia has faced throughout her studies and it’s simply unacceptable. Lessons clearly haven’t been learnt from previous occasions and therefore it’s important that the Welsh Government urgently addresses these problems to ensure that other students are not faced with similar problems in the future.”

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Education

Welsh Government invests £310m in skills

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Julie James: WG committed to raising skills

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has outlined a £310m package of financial support to drive up skills across Wales.

Ahead of the publication of the Welsh Government’s departmental spending plans, the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, announced £50m of capital funding for Further Education and Higher Education sectors to improve facilities and learning environments for students.

Over the next two years, £10m will be allocated for FE institutions to invest in industry-standard training equipment and a further £10m for essential maintenance to ensure safe learning environments.

An additional £30m (£10m in each of the next three years) will be allocated to support higher education estate rationalisation. This will expand the successful 21st century schools and education programme to include a ring-fenced fund for higher education estates; reducing surplus capacity and creating a more energy-efficient estate across Wales.

The Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, also confirmed that £260m will be invested for apprenticeships over the next two years (£130m in each year) to support the Welsh Government’s commitment of creating 100,000 all-age apprenticeships over the life of this Assembly term.

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said: “Our £50m capital investment for the FE and HE sector will enable them to provide state of the art facilities, improving learning environments for students and satisfying local employer needs. This investment is crucial both for our learners and for the wider economy.

Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James said: “We are committed to raising skills standards across the board in Wales and through our draft budget are putting investments in place to do just that.

“Apprenticeships are the start of an exciting and rewarding career, giving people an opportunity to gain on the job experience while gaining all the skills and qualifications they need.

“We are already delivering one of the most successful apprenticeship programmes in Europe – the £260m we’re investing over the next two years will build on this and enable us to deliver our commitment of creating 100,000 all-age apprenticeships over the life of this Assembly term.”

Responding, Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, said: “This capital investment is a mere fraction of what colleges and universities have been calling for, but the announcement is at least a step in the right direction.

“The Welsh Government must now map out a long-term plan for sustainable higher and further education system which will equip Wales with the skills our nation needs to compete in a global world.”

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