The dominance of agencies providing schools with supply teachers is facing a challenge from TeacherIn
"Digital disruption". It's a term beloved of edtech 'gurus', but for the rest of us it can often be experienced as confusing, unsettling and expensive – simply disruptive.
However, UK teachers and schools are signing up for a new app, which is already established in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. And it could cut "in excess of £10,000" from schools' supply teacher bills.
It could also put some of the savings back into supply teachers' pockets with some going into pensions and professional development. The only losers, it would seem, will be the recruitment agencies making money from teacher shortages.
TeacherIn is an app for Apple and Android mobile devices that quickly and efficiently matches supply teachers to the schools that need them. It also works on computers, with enterprise tools for groups of schools, academy chains, local authorities and suchlike.
Best of all it's free for teachers. Schools pay a subscription fee (around £2 per student per year on a sliding scale). Clearly the more a school relies on supply teachers the better value a subscription would be.
Hundreds of UK teachers already using TeacherIn
Around 25 schools and 600 teachers in Cornwall, Cardiff and Liverpool are already registered and the people behind the venture have been busy talking to teacher unions, schools, groups of schools and local authorities and government education departments. The Welsh Government is understood to be monitoring TeacherIn use in Welsh schools as it is interested in the service for CPD.
TeacherIn UK manager Martin Matthews said that feedback from the unions and government bodies he had been working with had been very positive, particularly about developing CPD. And teacher educator, Nadene Mackay, who is a consultant for TeacherIn, added, "The impact of one-off, face-to-face CPD is, as we know, limited. Investing in a blended approach is key and TeacherIn has already engaged a range of experts in its specialist areas to help implement the vision.
"A cohesive model which provides easily accessible, bite-sized and high-quality, relevant CPD to the supply teacher workforce will help them keep abreast of emerging pedagogies and initiatives as well as raise the quality of teaching and learning."
It's such a simple concept that you wonder why it's taken so long to emerge. Teachers sign up with TeacherIn and go through all the vetting and safeguarding checks that would be expected. This is all handled by TeacherIn. The system records the subjects and age groups they teach and where they are based.
Schools that are registered simply carry out a search when required (for up to ten vacancies) and the system generates a list of approved candidates, some of whom are probably already known to the schools. A shortlist list is drawn up and the school can either send out a message to all the teachers and work on the basis of who replies first, or it can prioritise the list and send out messages in a selected order, setting allotted times for responses.
All the parameters — and there are many more — can be changed and the system is comprehensive, versatile and extremely quick. Teachers can get messages via the app or text messages and respond immediately — there is no middle person. The rates of pay are entirely down to the school and can reflect local and national agreements. Extra information can be sent to successful candidates along with useful resources, even lesson plans. This is a simplified description and the people behind TeacherIn are committed to developing the system further to take account of the feedback they get from schools.
Martin Matthews, a former executive headteacher, says: "If you happen to be the teacher in charge of organising covers, it is the most thankless job in a school. Nobody likes it. You are in before anyone else and you start to get those calls from staff calling in. It’s incredibly pressurised.
"With our service, because there are reminders, you haven’t got to pick up the phone all the time. It simply takes the pressure away and schools get who and what they want. Not only is it cost efficient, it is incredibly time efficient!."
'Last year schools paid agencies £270 million in commissions'
After just four years of availability the service is being used in around 1,000 of Australia's 9,400 schools and by some 35,000 teachers. And TeacherIn is already using social media in the UK (@TeacherIn_UK — strapline "It's an app not an agency!") to spread the word and to invite teachers to express an interest so that they know where to best invest their resources for expansion (teacher vote at www.teacherin.co.uk/vote-we-are-next).
Chief executive Peter Carpenter, visiting from Australia, pointed out that schools in the southern hemisphere as more likely to use TeacherIn to save time and cut administration overheads while schools in the UK will also be looking for financial savings. It frees schools from the constraints of working with agencies and aspects like "finder fees".
"We are bringing the proven technology and model from Australia and assisting our UK team in changing the recruitment landscape," he added. "Last year alone, research highlighed that more than £270 million went to agencies in commissions paid by schools and also by supply teachers who had a 20-30 per cent cut taken from their daily wage.
"This year we can already see the huge savings that schools will make, in many instances in excess of £10,000, while supply teachers will be able to engage directly with schools and remove the middle man.
"In addition, TeacherIn will not only help put more back in a teacher's pocket (up to £6,000 for someone working just three days per week), it will also provide them with CPD courses through the app as well, something currently not readily available."
As teachers and schools move away from the agency model of recruitment is there a danger that they could move from one expensive monopoly to another? "No," says Peter Carpenter. "There are no transactional fees whatsoever as this is all based on one annual flat fee for schools. Could the subscription fees go up? If costs increase, yes, but only in line with real costs. And we also expect healthy competition over time."
Whether schools are ready to disrupt the current recruitment services for supply teachers will become clear very shortly. Next month TeacherIn will be meeting school leaders at The Academies Show in Birmingham (November 23) and the team will be building on the base it already has in place and then exhibiting at BETT 2017 in London's Docklands in January.