Open Letter to the Government Regarding Supply Teachers

Dear Dan Carden

Urgent financial help via Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for supply teachers

I am writing to you regarding the financial oversight of supply teachers during this third national lockdown, which has seen teaching moved online as part of the government’s plan to curb the spread of COVID-19, including the new variants that are present in the country.

I understand the purpose of this action and welcome school closures as my time on supply between October and December 2020 did see a great inconsistency in individual school approaches to maintaining a COVID secure environment for students and staff. I personally have had to isolate three times owing to contact tracing in schools. In two of those instances, I suffered a financial loss due to having to isolate during term time.
While the Prime Minister is insisting that schools are safe, I must disagree and insist that it is a very subjective matter that does need urgent attention and scrutiny. I have experienced schools with robust cleaning routines that still have high numbers of isolations and I have experienced a school in which I refused to return owing to no precautions taking place outside of having windows open.

While I intend to outline my personal difficulties that have led to me contacting you today, I would ask you to understand that I am one of many people currently in this situation due to the revised stipulations of the CJRS when the scheme was extended until April 2020.

I became a teacher of Religious Education in 2009 and spent the better part of ten years dedicated to my career. However, in October 2018 it became apparent that my father, suffering from end-stage COPD and heart failure, was no longer able to care for himself. Being a proud man, he was reluctant to ask for any help and support from the State, therefore I made the difficult decision to become his carer and return to the family home. He died in November 2019 and while this was a blessing due to his diminished condition rendering him bedbound, the timing has led to great personal difficulties.

There are many issues regarding education that I am sure you are already aware of, and are not the focus of today’s correspondence, but they do explain my reluctance to return to teaching prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown in March 2020. However, by July 2020 it was clear what impact the virus had on the country in terms of employment opportunities and I began registering with CER, a teaching supply agency. I worked consistently from my time of employment in October 2020 until the announcement of this third lockdown and the closure of school buildings to all but specific students.

During the first lockdown, I was faced with an income of £409 a month, while my outgoings were nearing £700. My issues regarding Universal Credit, while something I would like challenged, is not my specific concern today but a mere piece of the problem. When the regular income of supply teaching replaced the monthly UC allowance, I was grateful to be able to, once again, support myself. However, and I hope you can appreciate this, the money I earned was all used to play ‘catch up’ as it were. At no point was I able to even consider saving for what now appears to have been inevitable, school closures. This is not to say that I have not been looking for permanent positions within schools for further financial security. Being trained in Religious Education and not practising any faith, and the historic emphasis on the International Baccalaureate in which RE plays no part, does make roles difficult to obtain irrespective of the current situation.

I now find myself working one day a week at a high school. This placement was arranged in December and I am lucky to have had the contract honoured.However, this is not enough financially, and I have been waiting to hear from CER about flexi furlough which was mentioned as an option when school closures were first announced. This has not transpired as there has been no changes made to furlough despite the imposed lockdown meaning my working opportunities have been drastically reduced. This is beginning to put me in a position where I will eventually have to make decisions regarding paying bills or purchasing food. This is not something a qualified teacher of any status should have to make.

I trust that you recognise and appreciate that myself, and other supply teachers, have provided a vital service that without, some schools would have had to have closed during the first term of the 2020/2021 academic year. Supply teachers have taken on a front-line role, with the understanding that if they were to come into contact during their daily work, they would have to isolate without pay and it is a gross injustice that we should accept the same while we do not have access to paid work. While some supply teachers make a choice due to financial stability, it is ignorant and wrong to assume we are all supply for this same reason.

Supply teaching has often been considered a thankless role and one that has a stigma attached regarding the individual and the quality of his or her teaching rather than a situation brought about by personal circumstance. I hope you can see from my situation; this is not the case. I would also urge you to understand that this oversight of financial support only compounds the issue and is conveying an opinion of our worth.

I would welcome specific consideration to how the Government is able to support myself and other teachers who are currently registered with a supply agency and would welcome an assurance from you that this will be looked into as a matter of urgency and raised with colleagues in the DfE, the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)with a view for immediate and retroactive implementation.

I look forward to your positive response on these very important matters.

Yours sincerely,

Hannah-Lynette Hunter
Teacher of Religious Education

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