Supply Teachers have Faced Unique Difficulties During Pandemic

The EIS has published a new briefing paper which highlights the views of Supply teachers across Scotland on the many difficulties of teaching in schools during the pandemic.

The EIS recently surveyed members across Scotland on a wide range of COVID-related issues, and is publishing a series of themed briefings. Today’s report is based on more than 1,0000 comments received from Supply teachers in response to the national survey.

Key issues identified include:

  • Cleaning was flagged as an issue of particular concern, with members saying that classrooms are not cleaned regularly enough, and that supplies are running out throughout the day. This was of particular concern to supply teachers who covered numerous classes in a day or week as they feared potentially spreading infection between multiple classes or schools.

  • Members highlighted that it was impossible to socially distance themselves from their pupils when they need extra support, or when the class sizes remain so large.

  • Ventilation was also highlighted as a key issue as it is impossible to keep the classroom warm as well as properly ventilated.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “Supply teachers have faced some unique challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of the nature of their roles. Supply teachers often work across several schools, or across several authorities, in the course of their working week."

"This places them at a potentially higher level of risk of COVID infection, with a larger than average number of close contacts in any given week. Added to this, supply teachers and teachers in temporary posts are often operating in an environment where their jobs, and their pay, are not secure which adds worry over how to pay their bills to the worry over risks to their health from the pandemic."

"Many supply teachers have reported difficulty in securing work during the pandemic, despite higher than normal levels of staff absence and a stated commitment from the Scottish Government to support the employment of additional teachers in schools to support COVID education recovery."

A sample of comments Supply teachers who responded to the survey is included below:

  • “Working on supply I feel particularly vulnerable going between different classes throughout the school day and week therefore in contact with more pupils and adults than other class teachers are within the school. As a result of this job role, I am currently self-isolating.”

  • “I do not feel safe in school at all. Pupils are not taking situation seriously enough, they feel all back to normal as schools are back full time. I am too scared to ask to work from home in free periods as I am only on a temporary contract. No security in work, no sick pay, used as lifeline to keep things going when ‘proper’ staff need time out. Very stressful times all round. How long till the supply/temp staff break? I definitely feel like an expendable commodity.”

  • “There is not a level playing field for external candidates seeking work. People in my position who aren't newly qualified have been forgotten. It is frustrating as I want to work, and I hear of schools who need supply teachers.”

  • “It is not just my own health I am concerned about - my husband is a Nurse in a nursing home and he is concerned about schools remaining open at all costs. He has multiple health issues - diabetes, age, etc and has frequently asked me to stop work as he doesn't think it is safe in schools. He is deeply concerned that I'll get it, then he'll get it, and then it will be in the nursing home before we are aware we are positive. Why are digital thermometers not recording temperatures of students as they enter the building and testing of staff not compulsory in schools?”

  • “There have been several positive cases in our school, teachers and pupils. There have been and still are hundreds of pupils isolating and teachers also. Last April we lost a teacher to Covid. There are a lot of anxious teachers in our school.”

  • “I want schools to stay open. I have been a teacher for 35 years and am deeply committed to the outcomes for young people, especially after recent events for them. However, the ‘at any cost’ language from the government is insulting given the lack of concern over teachers’ welfare and wellbeing.”

Today’s briefing on Supply Teachers is the final publication in a series supporting the EIS campaign #NotAtAllCosts, which argues against the government plan to keep schools physically open ‘at all costs’ even in areas with high rates of COVID infection. The EIS is continuing to share members’ comments online, and urges individual teachers to do the same using the hashtag #NotAtAllCosts and tagging the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in their posts.

Today’s briefing (copy attached) and further information on the #NotAtAllCosts campaign can be accessed via the EIS website at