Kitemark plan to improve quality of supply teachers

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The Independent Online

The government is to unveil plans to improve the standards of commercial teaching agencies by offering them official kitemarks if they can prove they provide a first-class service for schools.

The government is to unveil plans to improve the standards of commercial teaching agencies by offering them official kitemarks if they can prove they provide a first-class service for schools.

From next year, all teaching supply agencies can apply for new voluntary "quality marks", which will show they have reached set standards in three areas: recruitment of staff, especially from overseas; management of supply teachers; and relations with schools.

The move comes after complaints from teaching union leaders that some agencies have been overcharging for services and warnings that standards could fall if there was an over-reliance on supply staff.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) said it approved of the plan but would have preferred the scheme to be compulsory.

Ministers say they expect a growth in the number of supply teachers used in British schools over the next year. Official forecasts say the figure could rise from 17,000 to 19,000, a substantial number of whom are recruited from overseas.

Ofsted, the Government's education standards watchdog, has warned that teacher shortages could lead to a fall in school standards and is urging its inspectors to investigate the impact of supply staffing in all future visits.

Under the government plan, commercial agencies – of which there are more than 100 in Britain – would have to provide evidence they have reached an acceptable standard in interviewing procedures to be given a "quality mark" for recruitment. They would also have to satisfy officials from the Department for Education and Skills that all staff recruited overseas had the necessary teaching qualification to teach in this country.

To qualify for a "management quality mark", the agencies would have to show they had provided their supply teachers with adequate training in government initiatives, such as the national curriculum, the compulsory literacy hour and daily maths lesson in primary schools and their extension to secondary schools from this term. They would also have to show they were getting feedback from schools on the standards of their staff and providing them with extra training if they needed to improve their performance.

On relations with schools, agencies would have to prove they had made schools aware of all charges they levy for administration. Headteachers claim some agencies have introduced colossal increases in daily rates – up to one and a half times the cost of employing a full-time staff member – as shortages have increased.

Ministers have decided against making the scheme compulsory, claiming it could involve too much bureaucracy. But education experts are satisfied that most of the reputable agencies will be keen to parade their "quality marks" to give proof of their standards to schools.

An Department for Education official said: "The proposal has the support of teachers, schools and the agencies themselves. This is about standards and making sure that schools have the information they need about recruits and the area they specialise in and the qualifications they have."

The new "quality marks" will be available to commercial teaching agencies by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, the Government is developing new training materials, which will allow supply teachers to tap into information on the latest teaching initiatives on the internet. The materials are expected to be available nationally next year.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said: "Quite clearly, control of supply agencies has been needed for a long time. There has been too much of a free-for-all in the support given to agency staff when they've brought them in from abroad or they're putting home-grown teachers into new situations.

"Supply teachers have not been helped by all of the agencies to do what is an extremely difficult job."