Why do schools use supply agencies?

Recruitment and retention are areas we’ve covered time and again as the ‘teacher crisis’ continues to prove a central issue for schools. One solution that schools are using to bridge the gap is supply agencies – but why? Clare Othman, operations director at Supply Desk, explains why she thinks schools choose supply agencies to fill teaching vacancies

Education recruitment agencies, including supply agencies, have become an integral part of most UK school recruitment strategies. With the start of every academic year comes the inevitable press coverage about schools using education recruitment agencies; usually focused on the ‘cost’ to schools, these articles rarely highlight the benefits for a school of outsourcing its recruitment.

It’s important to point out that, whilst agencies are typically described as ‘supply agencies’, many of these provide staff for a range of contract types. Supply agencies often find day-to-day and short-term supply to cover unplanned teacher absences, but they also fill longer term vacancies such as maternity cover and long-term illness, as well as permanent positions. There is a myriad of reasons why organisations from most other industries use recruitment agencies as part of their overall hiring strategy, so why should the education sector not do the same?

Why should schools use agencies – in short, what are the benefits?

Using agencies saves schools time and resources

Schools often lack the time and/or experience to effectively screen candidates – failing to separate the top candidates from the wealth of applicants. According to the 2017 NAO survey of school leaders , schools filled only half of their vacancies with teachers who had the experience and expertise required and, in roughly a tenth of cases, schools did not fill the vacancy at all (p10).

Some job applicants oversell their abilities, enthusiasm and dedication in their CVs, whilst other, very talented, teachers may submit weak applications, being inexperienced in writing a professional CV. Experienced recruiters are equipped to identify the worthwhile recruits – saving schools valuable time and resources. This also minimises a school’s risk of making a poor recruitment decision.

Good agencies, therefore, help to improve education standards by ensuring the best possible candidates are placed in schools.


Quality agencies – accredited by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) Audited in Education – have stringent registration and vetting procedures in place to ensure that all legal and contractual requirements are met before a candidate starts work. They should also ensure candidate compliance criteria are up-to-date, including the monitoring of key expiry dates such as Disclosure and Barring Service certificates and visas. This relieves schools of a huge administrative burden, thereby enabling them to focus on their core business of educating children.

Difficulties in recruitment due to teacher shortages

The UK teacher shortage is well-documented, as are the regional imbalances and deficits in specific subject areas. In 2016, 34,910 qualified teachers left for reasons other than retirement (p4). With soaring numbers of pupils entering the education system, particularly in secondary schools, and large numbers of teachers leaving the profession, the teacher shortage is projected to increase to over 13,000 by 2021 (p3). Fewer people are entering teacher training courses due to the wider career options available, compounding the shortage because there are insufficient graduates to replace retiring teachers.

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Source: Grant Thornton UK LLP (2016)

How does this influence a school’s use of supply agencies? Schools that do their own recruiting say it is increasingly difficult to find suitable candidates – even after spending large amounts of money on job advertisements. It’s more efficient for schools to get an agency – which has a large, pre-vetted pool of agency candidates from which to choose – to do the recruiting for them, with no risk of it leaving them out of pocket.

Quality candidates often prefer to be recruited via agencies

Increasing numbers of educators only seek work through recruitment agencies, rather than applying directly to a hiring school, despite proactive schools and local authorities attending university ‘milk rounds’ looking to attract new teachers. Job seekers use agencies as this is generally a far quicker way to find a position, and larger agencies, typically, have a wide variety of jobs to choose from, all at no cost to the teacher.

Additionally, professional education recruiters have extensive knowledge of schools in their area and can implement ongoing advertising and digital marketing campaigns to constantly attract new talent. The best agencies will consult meaningfully with job seekers to ensure the best possible fit between school and job seeker, making it an attractive option, particularly for NQTs. Again, this reduces the risk of a poor recruitment decision and helps ensure a better standard of education for students.

Temporary-to-permanent options

Many schools and job seekers like to work on a temporary-to-permanent basis. In this situation a teacher is appointed on a temporary contract with a view to becoming a permanent member of staff. This reduces the risk, both for schools and teachers, of making the wrong recruitment choice. It enables both parties to trial working together before making a more permanent commitment.

Access to international teachers’ supply agencies

Due to the decrease in UK teaching graduates entering the workforce, schools must broaden their search for high quality teachers. Agencies increasingly source quality teachers from countries with a surplus of teachers, such as Australia, Canada and Ireland.

A significant amount of work goes into finding, vetting and employing international teachers. It takes a long time to recruit international teachers; it’s estimated that most international teachers take approximately nine months of constant work to recruit and that many international teachers change their minds during the process. Most schools simply do not have the capacity to do this themselves, which means they benefit greatly from being able to employ international teachers via an agency.

As a result, supply agencies are now a necessary part of most UK school hiring programmes with most UK schools now using supply agencies as part of their overall recruitment mix. When hiring through agencies, headteachers, SBMs, SENCOs and other school leaders are able to make better use of their time; they also appreciate the benefits of hiring pre-vetted, top quality agency staff.

If your school is interested in using agencies as part of its staff recruitment solution, make sure the agencies selected are highly-regarded, members of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and have a thorough knowledge of the local area.

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