Schools in England struggling to recruit teachers are spending £1.3bn per year on supply staff, an increase of more than a quarter over two years, warns the Labour Party.
The data, coupled with earlier revelations that 50,000 teachers had left the profession this year alone, shows that the government is “risking the education of the next generation.”
It also shows a further rise in supply teacher spending among council-maintained schools from £941m in 2013/14 to £950m in 2014/15, and that the amount spent by academies more than doubled from £176m in 2012/13 to £354m in 2013/14.
Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell (pictured) accused ministers of “mishandling” teacher training, putting off applicants and “constantly” talking down the profession, causing “thousands of teachers” to quit.
She said: “As a result, half of all schools had unfilled positions at the start of this year and are being forced to turn to unqualified staff, temporary supply teachers, non-specialists, and larger class sizes to try to plug the gaps.
“Nothing is more important for raising standards and improving social mobility than ensuring there are excellent teachers in every school. The government urgently needs to get a grip on this problem, which is affecting the education of our children, and start to take it seriously.”
It comes after a survey by the National Association of Headteachers revealed four in five school leaders had reported problems with recruitment, and after union bosses warned MPs that schools were spending tens of thousands of pounds on agency fees to recruit staff.
However, the Department for Education said: “It is completely misleading to suggest there are chronic shortages of teachers or that a record number of teachers have ‘quit’ the profession – our increased spending on supply teachers simply reflects our increased total spending in response to rising pupil numbers.
“The overall teacher vacancy rate is 0.3 per cent and has remained under 1% for the past 15 years. The 49,120 that left the profession between November 2013 and November 2014 includes those that left through death or retirement.”
The National Governors’ Association, said hefty recruitment fees were a big drain on schools already financially stretched.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, said: “There cannot now be any doubt that schools are in the midst of a serious teacher recruitment and retention crisis, driven by the adverse impact of the Government’s policies on the school workforce.
“Since 2010, there have been relentless attacks on teachers. Year-on-year cuts to teachers’ pay, workload spiralling out of control, deprofessionalisation, demoralisation and denigration.
“The result is that resignations are up and applications to teach are down, leaving schools to increasingly rely on supply teachers to fill the gap.
“As the Labour Party’s figures show, supply teachers are a vital resource for schools and they are the backbone of the school system. Despite this, many face exploitation by supply agencies in their drive to maximise their profits.
“The NASUWT is continuing to press for better regulation of supply agencies to end unscrupulous practices such as forcing supply teachers to sign exploitative contracts with offshore umbrella companies. Many of these companies deny supply teachers their basic legal rights and entitlements and seek to avoid paying tax and National Insurance.
“As well as addressing the root causes of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, the Government must also make good on promises to end the exploitation of supply teachers by ensuring good employment practices, fair remuneration and decent working conditions.”