SHEFFIELD schools are spending nearly £4 million a year on supply teachers - covering for staff who are away on sick leave or busy preparing lessons.
A Freedom of Information request made by The Star has shown that, during the last academic year, primary schools in the city spent £2.8 million on cover.
Secondary schools paid out £870,000, while in special schools the bill was £110,000 - with supply teachers receiving up to £250 a day.
But the figures show the growing pressure on school budgets is resulting in a slow down in the sums spent on supply staff - compared with the middle of the last decade when expenditure rocketed nationally by almost a quarter in just five years.
Teaching unions say the huge sum is a direct reflection of the stresses and pressures of the job. Teachers take more time off sick than any other group in the public sector, and far more than workers in the private sector.
The most recent statistics show that almost three million working days were lost to illness nationally - almost five-and-a-half days for each teacher.
Teacher recruitment is also a problem for some schools, where supply staff have to step in when posts can’t be filled.
David Conway, headteacher at Bradfield Secondary, said schools were generally unable to avoid or cut the costs of supply staff.
“We are fortunate in that we have built up a very reliable core of retired teachers who are able to provide cover at short notice and at reasonable cost - unlike staff provided by agencies who can be really expensive,” he said.
“Generally our budget can cope but difficulties can arise which come out of nowhere, for example we were one of the worst affected schools in the country during the swine flu epidemic, when we had 400 pupils and many staff off.
“And for other schools in the city recruitment problems are an enormous issue. While we can get 30, 40 or 50 applications, others really struggle to fill posts and often need cover.”
Ben Morris, Sheffield’s joint divisional secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said he was concerned that the size of the supply bill was a result of teachers struggling with stress and heavy workloads.
“Another worry is that pressure on school budgets means headteachers are increasingly relying on non-qualified staff to fill in to save money,” he said.
“But the only real way to reduce the supply bill would be to reduce the amount of pressure on teachers in the classroom.
“When compared with other professions teaching comes out top for the most stressful environment. It was not always that way, but that is how it has become,” he added.
A council spokesman said costs of supply cover had risen because some staff had attended national training sessions which had been funded by the Government.
“This training ceased at the end of March and we would now expect to see supply costs reduce as a result,” he said.
n ANOTHER Freedom of Information request by The Star has revealed Sheffield’s best paid headteacher earns over £102,000 - with the lowest paid on just under £47,000. The average secondary school head earns £85,000, while the average primary school head earns £60,000.