Guest post: Supply teachers could be asked to cover striking teachers to keep schools and businesses open

The government is reviewing law which bans recruitment agencies from providing temporary staff to cover striking workers in all sectors: Stewart McCoy of Ranstad Education considers the possible implications for schools and teachers.

Stewart McCoy

Stewart McCoy

In July 2015, some may say suspiciously close to the school summer holidays, the UK government announced a consultation into the likely impact of removing the regulations that make it unlawful for employment agencies to provide temporary staff, including supply teachers to cover the duties of workers who are taking part in official industrial action.

The recruitment sector is regulated by the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (the ‘Conduct Regulations’).

Currently Regulation 7 of the Conduct Regulations prohibits employment businesses from providing agency workers to cover the duties normally performed by an employee of an organisation who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

The Government says that it is committed to tackling the disproportionate impact of strikes on important public services.  These include schools, NHS, all emergency services, prisons, transport, local council and benefits services. Removing regulation 7 from the Conduct Regulations would allow employers facing industrial action to hire temporary agency workers from employment businesses who would then be able to perform some of the functions not being carried out due to the industrial action.

Professionals working in the education don’t want to see a day go by when pupils are not learning, but public sector pay is always under pressure and the effectiveness of industrial action may be lessened if the regulation is removed.  But even if the law is changed to permit the use of temporary staff to cover strike action, the question left unanswered is one of moral and ethical personal values.  Will temporary supply staff, who are also likely to be union members, respond to requests and cross the threshold of the school gates and beyond the picket line?

The argument for removing the restriction reaches much further than the classroom though and the government would argue that the effect of school closures impacts negatively on parents who may have to take unpaid leave or use their limited holiday entitlements. This could affect smaller business that may have to stop trading for short periods if parents are forced to take time off as a result of these closures. In addition, any strikes held by transport and other essential services have far reaching effects on the economy and society for similar reasons and mean that thousands of workers cannot get to work as seen in recent London Underground Strikes.

The consultation invited response from employers, employees and recruitment agencies but few people had heard about the opportunity to respond, which closed on the 9th September 2015. An announcement by the government department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) is expected by the 21st October. Within the recruitment sector it is widely expected that the government will announce that the intention will be to seek to make the changes go ahead. This will mean that in the future, head teachers will be able to ask supply agencies to provide supply teachers to cover for striking colleagues.


Stewart McCoy is Operations Director, Randstad Education, and Chair of the Recruitment and Employment confederation (REC) Education Sector Group.


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Were you aware of this review and consultation, and what do you think of the possible implications as outlined here by Stewart McCoy?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


Should supply teachers be allowed to cover for teachers undertaking industrial action?


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  1. andrew_1910

    SchoolsImprove I’d hope supply teachers should refuse to work for a strike breaking agency. Opportunity for an ethical agency to recruit.

  2. rrunsworth

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove Read. Not every Union member agrees with taking industrial action. Personal choice which should respected.

  3. Jamie J

    rrunsworth cherrylkd SchoolsImprove How about campaigning and voting against industrial action if you don’t like it and then accepting the democratic verdict of the ballot?

  4. jimanddawn

    SchoolsImprove I think you’ll find that there won’t be enough supply teachers to cover !! Teacher shortage crises looming I’m afraid !

  5. Stewart McCoy01

    @Jamie J rrunsworth cherrylkd SchoolsImprove A very interesting argument. If you are currently against you can only abstain/stay silent

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