THE bill for supply teachers in Kirklees for just one year is now more than £7.5m.
But the council insists the whopping amount is not out of the ordinary and is less than many other local authorities.
And they say is only amounts to a tiny proportion of the overall education budget which is a shade under £260m.
The number of teachers off sick, on maternity leave or absent for other reasons – including training or jury service – is eating up more than 2.3% of the schools budget each year, the Examiner can reveal.
Accounts for 2008/09 show Kirklees schools spent £7,641,009 on supply teaching to cover classes across its 192 schools.
Half the supply teachers came from the council’s own Kirklees Supply Service while the remainder were employed by external agencies.
The supply teaching bill cost a similar amount the year before.
Julie Bowdidge, principal improvement manager for Kirklees children and young people’s service, said: “There are some elements of absence that are unavoidable.
“We cannot plan for people going off sick. Schools do as much as they can to minimise disruption to children’s education.
“Someone can leave my work for a week, but you cannot have that in a school. You have got to have someone in front of the children.
“In that respect, it is inevitable and unavoidable.
“Our schools are not at fault. They are just providing education for the children in their care.”
A total of 3,500 people are employed as teachers in Kirklees schools. Each school is handed a slice of the council’s annual £259.9m budget, provided by the Government. They can then choose how the money is spent within their own school, allowing for staffing, running costs and supply teaching.
Schools can choose whether to recruit their supply staff from the Kirklees supply pool of more than 750 teachers or use external agencies.
Ms Bowdidge added: “Sickness is inevitable. Teachers also have to go on courses so that they keep up to date.
“We do monitor sickness. We get monthly statistics from schools and we know if there is a particular trend.
“In Kirklees we do not have massive recruitment problems which can be another need for supply.
“The key thing is that we have experienced and qualified people sitting in front of the pupils. We want minimum disruption.”
Howard Roberts, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) raised serious concerns about some of the commercial agencies often being used by schools because they were cheaper.
He said: “Most supply is to do with sickness absence.
“Kirklees has a supply agency. We want a qualified teacher in front of the children. That is what parents are paying their taxes for.
“Some schools are trying to cut costs by using commercial providers where there is extreme variance in quality.
“We are extremely concerned about that.”
The supply teaching bill in Bradford – a larger Metropolitan authority than Kirklees – is now just over £11m.