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Supply teaching – tips about agencies, supplies, behaviour management and more

Elias Taylor offers five points to consider if you’re thinking of making the move to substitute teaching...

  • Supply teaching – tips about agencies, supplies, behaviour management and more

1 | Do your research

If you decide to consider agency work, read some reviews and ask fellow teachers for their recommendations on which agencies to join. Sign up to a few at the same time – perhaps a big, established agency (so you know there’ll be enough work) and a local one that mainly serves schools within your community. Ask nearby schools which agencies they like to use.

Signing up to a few agencies will help you consolidate the overheads associated with the process (providing documents, travelling to interviews, etc) as well as maximising your chances of getting relevant job opportunities.

By its nature, supply work can be unpredictable – not every job will necessarily be right in your sweet spot, or just around the corner. The more offers you have coming in, the more discerning you can be, and the more likely it is that the perfect job will come your way.

2 | Ask questions

Whether you’re working via an agency or directly for a school, one key thing is to make sure you agree your rate of pay upfront, ideally in writing. Employment structures in supply can be complex, and rates of pay, deductions and ‘admin fees’ can be very unclear. You don’t want a nasty surprise on your payslip a week or two after you’ve just started what you thought was your dream job, so make sure you’re clued up on how your agency’s payment process works. Here are some questions to ask:

Do you pay PAYE or via an umbrella? If via an umbrella, what are the fees and what is your agreed rate?
Who is paying the Employer’s National Insurance Contribution? (Hint – unless you explicitly agreed otherwise in advance, it shouldn’t be you.)
Do I get holiday pay immediately or is it ‘reserved’ as an ‘allowance’ that I have to claim back later?

3 | Be prepared

This one particularly applies to prospective day-to-day supply teachers. Ideally you want to arrive at a new school pre-armed with lesson plans and activities, so get together a pack that is resource light and works across year groups.

Research the school’s key policies on its website before you arrive. The behaviour policy is particularly useful as it lays out the ethos, expectations and systems that are embedded across the school. Knowing these in advance will give you confidence and authority in the classroom.

Arriving as early as possible will help you most of all. Doing so will give you time to check books, read through any planning that has been left by the teacher, and to liaise with others – especially support staff – to help you prepare for lessons.

4 | Inform former schools

The ideal supply teacher is one who already knows the ins and outs of the school and doesn’t need too much scaffolding. It’s highly likely your former schools will want to know you’re now available for supply, so tell them.

If they don’t want to employ you directly each time they need supply (which although some schools do, many aren’t able to), choose your preferred agency to work through. This may work well for both of you – it helps keep the relationship formal and manageable, and can help alleviate the administration of background checks, payments and so on.

5 | Reap the benefits

Working as supply you’ll get to experience a wide range of approaches to behaviour management, planning, teaching and assessment. You’ll also get to witness the day-to-day running of lots of schools. The opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and novel approaches can be a huge boost to your own experience. You’ll have a front row seat to what works well (and what doesn’t) and come out armed with great ideas to implement in your next long-term role.

It’s important to note that day-to-day supply is only one form of supply teaching. Many supply teachers work on regular, part-time contracts or take longer-term placements where they can have a big impact while retaining more flexibility than a permanent contract may offer.

Elias Taylor has been a teacher for 14 years. He is currently schools success manager at Teacher Booker (@teacherbooker), an online network that directly connects schools with teachers through their wide range of recruitment provision.

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