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Thinking About Supply Work

Thinking about supply work?

Here are some basic 'fors', 'againsts', and ways in to supply teaching. Wherever you are in your teaching career, the leap into supply work is a decision not to be taken lightly. (See below for source of original article from 2002 – with permission.)

Thinking about Supply Work

Many teachers have found that supply teaching suits their individual needs. However, it is important to seriously consider all the implications before giving up the security of, or the idea of, a permanent contract.

Your union is always a good point of reference for advice and guidance with regards to the impact of such a move on your status, pension, etc. In the meantime, here is helpful as some background information.

It has been reported that schools spend £600 million a year on supply staff*. It has long been recognised that supply teachers are a natural port of call for schools in crisis – most notably to cover for absent teachers at short notice. In December 2001, Ofsted reported that:

A number of schools gave supply teachers too little information about pupils' backgrounds, policies, procedures, etc and made little use of the work produced in their lessons.
That the number of supply teachers in schools increased from 12,200 in 1995 to 20,000 in 2001.
That three times more work permits had been issued to teachers from outside the EU in 2001 compared to 2000.

What is expected of a supply teacher?

To teach in a maintained school in England it is generally necessary to hold Qualified Teaching Status (QTS) and a current DBS Certificate.

Many supply teachers will find themselves teaching in more than one school, possibly within the same week, sometimes in the same day, and needing to become aware of the different way each institution will work.

However, they will still be expected to:

    • Keep up to date with developments in the curriculum in general, and their subject speciality in particular.
    • Effectively teach and supervise classes according to the guidelines of each school.
    • Be ready to teach from ready-prepared lessons, or work from their own material.
    • Mark work according to the school they are in – e.g. primary or secondary – before leaving at the end of the day.
    • Maintain professional standards of dress and behaviour.
    • Be prepared to carry out reasonable requests from the headteacher.

It is estimated that around 40% of supply teachers are ‘short termers’ in that they move from full time to supply and back to full time.

Why become a supply teacher?

Those who do enter the supply teaching arena do so for a number of reasons:

  • Greater flexibility.
  • Experiencing the benefit of being in the classroom without the same responsibility of meetings, paperwork, test/exam grades, Ofsted, etc.
  • Having a choice in which schools to teach as a supply teacher.
  • Gaining an insight into those schools they would like to teach in if a permanent position became available.
  • Furthering professional development from teaching a variety of pupils from different backgrounds within schools having varying management approaches and educational philosophies.

Are there any disadvantages?

However, there are a number of disadvantages of supply work which can emanate from this almost 'nomadic' lifestyle. These include:

  • The uncertainty of work, and being only paid for the teaching they do as there is no sick or holiday pay, although a number of agencies now account for these within the amount they pay.
  • Missing out on in-service training.
  • Difficulty in developing relationships with pupils and staff.
  • Experiencing a lower level of regard from pupils, staff, parents and inspectors.
  • Needing to carry an ‘office’ around with them.
  • The inconsistent ways in which they are briefed and given information about what to expect in relation to pupils and the school.
  • Experiencing discipline problems in class.
  • Poor access to resources.
  • Difficulties when ‘cover work’ is not left.
  • Feeling generally unsupported in schools.
  • The daily rate for suply work can vary significantly between £60 and £200 per day depending on the supply agency the teacher is working for.
  • Possibility of missing out on pension rights and experiencing difficulty in crossing the threshold.
  • Variations in the amount that agencies will take from a day’s pay.
  • The likelihood of any school offering a temporary/permanent contract being charged an ‘introduction’ fee by the supply agency that placed the teacher in the school – and this can amount to a significant sum of money.
  • Teachers working for supply agencies are not employees of the LEA or school, therefore are not entitled to receive rates of pay in accordance with the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document, or entitled to pay in to the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

How to enter the 'world' of supply teaching work

There are a number of routes for teachers who want to embark on supply work:

  • A supply agency will find work for the teachers registered with it so the individual can wait for the telephone call. However, as noted above, rates of pay vary considerably. Agencies can be the first call for schools that are looking for long term cover.
  • An LEA, which operates a ‘pool’ of supply teachers, will pay according to the national pay scale. Individuals in this situation also have the advantage of choosing to opt into the teachers’ ‘superannuation’ pension scheme. However, some LEAs have ceased to maintain a supply ‘pool’, with a number considering joining together to form their own supply agencies.
  • Directly circulating CVs and covering letters to schools within their area. Schools do build up a list of ‘tried and tested’ supply teachers that they will contact first to check availability.
  • A number of supply teachers, depending on their needs, will use a combination of LEA, agency, and direct school contact.

Is there any regulation of supply teaching?

There is little regulation of the supply work industry. However:

  • Generally speaking, supply agencies are conscientious in interviewing, and running appropriate checks on teachers applying to register with them.
  • Some join the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and are quality audited, and / or APSCo's Compliance+ scheme, demonstrating a quality standard. These aim to encourage minimum standards for working with school and teachers, recruiting, interviewing, and staff management. They are voluntary, paid-for schemes.
  • However, there are calls for the supply industry to be more formally regulated which would include on-going professional development opportunities for supply teachers.

Supply Teacher Pensions

Also, supply teachers working for a supply agency cannot normally pay superannuation contributions. Supply teaching, like part-time teaching, does not automatically qualify for a pension scheme. Under the Government's Workplace Pensions scheme, supply teachers will be offered the ability to pay into a pension, but this is being rolled out over a few years, and not all agencies have had their deadlines allotted. 

In order to be pensionable, it is necessary for a supply teacher, who is working directly for a school or LEA, to elect for superannuation contributions to be deducted from his/her salary.

It is also important for supply teachers who do pay superannuation, to keep a comprehensive record of the schools they have worked in, just in case there is any later questioning of their pensionable service.

The pensions department of your union, as well as the Teachers' Pension Agency will be able to provide advice and guidance.

Supply Teaching Insurance

Many things can happen in schools, ranging from damage to personal property to injury. Mostly these will be accidental or unintentional, however it is important for a supply teacher to be aware of what insurance cover they have, and who is responsible for providing it – the school, the LEA, the supply agency, etc.

Again your union will be best placed to advise you.

Original text from here, edited as out of date.

* I am currently trying to confirm the latest figures on this. I suspect that it is now considerably less due to the increased numbers of TAs/HLTAs/CSs covering lessons.