If you are struggling to secure a permanent teaching post, there is always the option of working as a supply teacher. But how does it all work and what are the advantages and disadvantages?
Most supply work is advertised by teaching recruitment agencies that specialise in education. However some schools and local authorities recruit supply teachers directly, so if there is a particular school or local authority in which you wish to work, it’s worth contacting them speculatively.
Agencies (sometimes called Recruitment Consultants) are commercial organisations ranging from large national and international companies, to small local firms. Some cover a range of sectors and some specialise solely in education. The agency is paid a fee by the school for their recruitment services. The prospective employee pays no fees.
Supply teachers are employed either via supply teaching agencies, umbrella companies, or directly by schools, local authorities and academies. An umbrella company acts as an employer to supply teachers and will usually pass on to the teacher various costs such as the employer’s National Insurance contributions and the umbrella company’s fee.
Registration with an agency usually involves submitting an application form or CV, followed by a meeting with one of their recruitment agents or consultants. Whilst there is no guarantee of regular work, supply teachers who can adapt quickly and at short notice to different schools, pupils, subjects and age groups will be in more demand than those who are less flexible.
NQTs often ask how working as a supply teacher effects the requirement to complete an induction or probationary year. The rules currently state that from the point of award of QTS you can undertake short-term supply work of less than one term in a relevant school for a maximum period of 5 yearswithout a completed NQT induction year. This is a fixed time limit with no discretion to extend. Short-term supply placements of less than one term, or equivalent, cannot count towards induction. Once the 5 years is up you will need to take a post that counts towards your NQT induction year. For more information on your induction year, have a look at the government’s guidance document.
UOC careers service can help you put together a teaching CV, and advise you on agencies to approach. We always suggest you choose an agency which specialises in teaching, and more specifically supply work. It’s also worth checking that they belong to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). If an agency uses the REC logo, it means that they have passed the initial Compliance Test and required to adhere to the REC Code of Professional Practice.
Are there advantages working as a supply teacher rather than gaining a permanent contract?
Flexibility, freedom and variety
You can choose whether to accept or decline work.
You can work in a variety of different settings and locations.
Not being tied to a permanent contract means you can take holidays in term time, when travel is cheaper!
You can combine working with learning. For example, undertake a part-time Masters degree at the same time.
Professional development and employment prospects
You get to experience different ways of doing things which is great for picking up new ideas and developing confidence and expertise.
You get to experience different settings which will broaden your horizons.
You are more likely to secure a permanent contract if you have been working as a supply teacher than if you are unemployed or working in a non-teaching role.
First impressions really count, and as you’ll meet a range of teachers and head teachers, there will be lots of opportunities to network.
Build your reputation! Head teachers network with each other too, so if you are good, word spreads.
“Try before you buy”
Get an insight into different schools and decide which setting suits you best.
If you are relocating to a new area, supply work gives you the chance to get a feel for different communities and schools in the new area.
As a supply teacher you will tend to do less of the onerous daily planning and preparation that permanent teachers are expected to do.
You may not attend as many meetings as permanent teaching staff.
What are some of the disadvantages?
Some supply teachers get plenty of work, but some don’t.
The lack of a regular income can be problematic if you wish to apply for a mortgage.
Terms and conditions of employment may vary depending on the nature of your contract and employment status.
The availability of work can be irregular if you are an NQT.
Being called upon at the last minute can be stressful. If you say ‘no’ and turn work down, you may worry that you may not be called upon again.
It’s difficult to forward plan as you may or may not be working.
It can be lonely being a supply teacher as colleagues don’t always have time to get to know you properly.
Access to continuing professional development and mentoring support can be irregular.
If you are only working in a school for a short time, it can be difficult to get to know the children and therefore not as easy to teach them.
Sources of advice and support
The University of Cumbria Careers and Employability Service is here to support you for up to three years after you complete your course – http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/careers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment and for advice on applications, CVs and more.
Careers can also give you feedback via email on your teaching applications, letters and CVs. Send us the job details of the post you are applying for, and your draft application, letter or CV and we’ll email back some feedback.