When you have explored and exhausted all internal options to ensure you are adequately staffed in your school, you may need to call on a supply agency to support you.
This should be easy. After all, there are plenty of them and they are probably calling you 2-3 times a day!
It is your choice which agency you choose to call but there are things you should consider before you do.
- Understand the vetting procedures of the agency - how do you know you are dealing with a reputable agency? Are they a member of REC? Are they following DFE and REC Education Audit guidelines? Have you asked the agency to provide you with their safeguarding policy, or their audit accreditation? Don’t naturally assume that all the relevant checks have been done, because we know in up to 25% of cases they are not fully complete. Any credible agency will be approved by a regulatory body and be able to answer all these questions with conviction displaying professionalism, best practice and an overwhelming importance to safeguarding.
- Don’t be blinded by the offers - some agencies may offer enticing ‘cash back’ schemes, some may offer to replenish the school’s library with brand new books whilst some may offer the lowest rates within the market. Occasionally you will find an agency that will promise you all three! All of this sounds great but all that glitters is not gold and it is often the worker who is paying the price. Be mindful that the agencies who offer you the world are likely to be those that choose to pay their staff via an umbrella payment vehicle rather than PAYE. A method that significantly reduces the workers ‘take home pay’ because they are paying their own employers NI contributions, apprenticeship levy and pension, often without realising, and this helps to protect the margin of the agency. Classic Education is amongst a number of ethical agencies that pay all their teaching staff fairly via PAYE, so there are no ‘hidden costs’.
- Check you are getting what you asked for – there are some poor examples out there of agencies showing a lack of honesty and integrity, not just with the school but with supply workers. Teachers being pushed (sometimes unknowingly until they arrive at the school) into year groups, subjects and settings where they have either no knowledge or no experience. Inexperienced TA’s being set up to fail in specialist SEN settings just in the hope that it ‘might’ work out. Nursery Assistants being badged as Nursery Nurses when they do not hold the appropriate qualification. These examples do happen and are a hindrance rather than a help. If you are unsure then challenge the agency – ask to see the CV or their qualifications for assurance. If you have experienced this in your school on a regular basis, it is likely that you are working with an agency that doesn’t care and shows no attention to detail. They are wasting your time and money and it may be time to try elsewhere!
- Engage with consultative people not sales people - good consultants tend to listen more than they speak. They aren’t generally hard sales people (not the ones phoning you on an hourly basis trying to wear you down), in fact they aren’t always great sales people. They are good listeners. They try to understand your needs and want to know how things run in your school. As a rule you will find that consultative and ‘service led’ agencies employ consultative and ‘service led’ consultants. This in turn enables them to often recruit higher quality candidates as their values and standards are much higher. If you find yourself speaking with someone who is constantly selling to you and disrupting your day with multiple calls, you need to consider if they are right for you. They are notorious for over promising, under delivering and letting you down at the last minute. Think of your supply agency in the same way you think of your broadband provider – if your service is poor, speed is slow, always looking to upsell your package, then change your supplier!
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good agencies out there and some excellent consultants who do a great job in helping and supporting the schools they work with.
If you are already receiving excellent service and supply staff from your agency then this is great news! However, if you are able to relate to any of the poor practices highlighted, and they are happening all too frequently then you may need to look around to find an agency that is compatible to your school.