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Supply Teaching


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#1 Dave Wallbanks

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Posted 07 October 2003 - 11:04 PM

The co-ordinator of supply teaching at my current school described the issue of supply teaching as a minefield. The purpose of this seminar is to suggest that the current system of supply teaching is not working and to offer a few suggestions for solutions to the main problems facing schools today. It is entirely subjective, being drawn largely from personal experience and discussions with other teachers and colleagues. It is not an academic study and is not intended to cause offence so please don’t take any comments personally, but join in the debate and make some suggestions of your own. I should add that I considered becoming a supply teacher which involved a lot of soul-searching before deciding I’d prefer to stay in permanent employment in one school.

First the positive points. Supply teachers play a vital role in the education system, filling in for absent teachers when sick and covering when we are away on inset courses. We will always need supply teachers and for many it is a fulfilling and rewarding choice of career. The lot of the supply teacher can be varied and offers the potential to work as and when they choose and in a number of different settings, with a widely varying experiences in the classroom, without a lot of the paperwork and responsibilities faced by regular teaching staff. It is a popular choice of career for retiring teachers and those in areas where permanent jobs might be hard to find and it keeps these people in the education system where otherwise we might lose valuable experience. The supply teacher system allows schools to try teachers before they are offered permanent contracts and can be a useful recruitment tool.

I work with a very good teacher with a great deal of experience as a supply teacher who teaches a lot of history every week and this experience has been vital in helping me to prepare this work. When we discussed this topic there were a number of points that he made regarding his work as a supply teacher. Firstly he pointed out that the lot of the supply teacher can be a very hazardous one with a lack of continuity and no certainty of work and the period they may be required can vary from an afternoon to a full term or even a whole year. So there’s no guarantee that they can pay the mortgage each month and often when they are paid, if they’re working for an agency they might take home a lot less than full time teachers (rates of pay can be from £80 to £145 per day) and without (in a majority of cases) the additional benefits of pension schemes and holiday pay. Although some agencies provide training to keep supply staff up to speed with changing practices and latest curriculum developments these are few and far between. Then they have the problem that it is almost impossible to form a permanent relationship with pupils or how staff accept them into the workplace and whether the school is geared up to welcoming them. Something as simple as a map of the buildings can be a lifesaver, but some schools don’t provide the basic information such as timings of the school day or guidelines as to what to do in dealing with discipline problems. We discussed schools where the heads of department refused to speak to the supply teachers, even though they worked in the same school for a full term. Do you reject supply teachers or accept them as part of your team? Some supply teachers arrive to departments where there hasn’t been a subject teacher for months and have out and out hostility from pupils who haven’t been taught a subject properly for months or as one colleague reported in London where the RE department hadn’t had a specialist RE teacher for 3 years and just had to make do with an endless string of short lived supply teachers, employed to be a body in class, not a teacher! The gaps have been filled with people of varying nationalities, aptitudes and abilities BUT never filled by a full time permanent teacher. Why is this? The issue to be addressed here is not just recruitment but the retention of staff. In some schools the term supply teacher might as well come equipped with a large target and a post it note saying “kick me” stuck to their backs. It takes a very special person to want to go into new situations every other day, knowing the hassle they could expect and still try to teach.

My belief is that the current supply teacher system needs to be improved and offers very little to the education system. Some councils have excellent pools of supply teachers that provide fantastic service to the schools who use them and who can be relied upon to come in at a moment’s notice but the numbers of those who do this is dwindling. Too often supply agencies send anyone to fill in the gaps and at around £195 per day it’s hardly surprising they’re keen to get their staff into schools. The system is not regulated properly and there have been numerous incidents where the supply agencies have been seriously negligent and irresponsible in their work in my view, seeking to cash in at the expense of the school, the education system and ultimately our pupils. In the north-east one co-operative agency has sought to change these perceptions and offers a more responsible style of supply agency sharing profits and providing training and support as well as paying a much higher rate to its’ staff. I’m sure more could be done like this and recommend that anyone looking for such work shops around very carefully before selecting the agency they work for. One point I’d make is that the agencies need you more than you need them. Alternatively when looking for supply work write to every school and make them aware you’re looking for work. You get paid more if you get paid directly and once you’ve made an impact then you will get more work.

Some Personal Experiences.
Last year my department had 14 different supply teachers over the course of 8 months. Each was greeted with warm welcomes as someone who would be a valued member of our department and as a colleague and hopefully a friend. The current system places far too much power in the hands of unaccountable businesses and leaves schools and education authorities virtually helpless. The agencies were happy to send anybody to fill the gaps, often unqualified people with no training (some teachers who spoke very little English!) and on two or three occasions there were men and women whose last experience of the classroom was 10 years previously when they’d left school! In other words we saw people walking in off the street with degrees to agencies and saying I think I’d quite like to be a teacher, being told to say they would be applying for future on the job training next year and then being sent out to work. One of these people was actually planning to be a doctor and was just killing time until starting training. Another had just decided to try teaching to see if he liked it! Regularly references and qualifications were not checked or entirely unsuitable. We had people who had degrees in home economics saying they’d quite like to try geography, people returning to the profession after 17 years away and one was sacked for attempting to knock our kids down in his desperate hurry to get home quick. I’ve even heard that one person had faked all of their qualifications and references and was sent to work with children and even offered a permanent contract! What if this person had ulterior motives and simply wanted to get to work near kids? The agencies are putting our children at risk with this lack of concern. This was only one incident, I’ve heard of lots more around the country.

The second point to be made here is that our pupils deserve better than some of the mediocrity offered to them under the guise of supply teaching. Many of them are working as babysitting services, not actively teaching our children. At the huge price that supply teaching costs, this is an insult to the pupils, their parents and the tax payer. I’d further add that in some cases the damage to pupils’ education was indefensible and in some of the shortage subjects irreparable. One supply teacher even told me he’d been promised he could go somewhere better if he stayed at our place for a few weeks. Where’s the concern for education and the future of our children? My pupils being treated like cattle fodder for the financial benefit of an unaccountable businessman.
At times it would appear that anyone could get a teaching job in some schools, not because they’re good teachers but because they’re a body in front of the class. Perhaps this is a subject for future debate?
1) I would argue that teaching agencies need to be regulated properly and fully licensed, with a cap on the profits they make from each teacher they put in place and that these are compelled to provide up to date and regular paid training for all their staff, as well as being forced to assist supply teachers in their planning of pensions etc.
2) I would also insist every single supply teacher has to be thoroughly checked in the same manner as any teacher moving to a new post and that if they aren’t qualified to teach they don’t get into the classroom!
3) We should expect every school to establish a policy on introduction of supply teachers and maintain packs of materials that could be given every time someone new starts.
4) The government should devise a proper code of conduct setting out minimum expectations of supply teachers in the classroom and making them more responsible to ensure teach pupils effectively.
5) Councils need to be encouraged and rewarded by the government to establish and maintain a pool of supply teachers available on a regular basis, rewarding good supply teachers with permanent supply contracts. Councils should also help their schools’ manage supply teachers.

Finally I should add that I have considered going down the route of supply teaching but have always been put off by the problems they talk about when they describe their work. It takes a very special and dedicated person to be a supply teacher and to do their work well every day, most of these do a fine job, doing things way above and beyond the normal call of duty and become valued members in staffrooms all over the country. However, the system needs to iron out the flaws and make this a more rewarding career for those who do the job but it also needs to address key concerns that rob our schools and the education system of valuable funds to pay for agencies to provide supply teaching staff, funds that could be much better used providing books and materials in our classrooms. The sooner someone points out to the government how badly schools are being ripped off the better.
I’d be very interested in your comments and suggestions as to what should be done next.
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#2 lcarr002q

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Posted 08 October 2003 - 02:59 AM

Hi Dave,
A colleague just back from teaching in Britain has been telling us how different the whole employment set-up is there. In Queensland where I live and teach all teachers have to be registered through the Board of Teacher Registration(www.btr.gov.au). This helps weed out the untrained etc. All teachers seeking registration have to go through a security check and any with criminal records are weeded out. Teachers can be de-registered if they break the rules. AND schools generally organise their own short term supply teachers and organise contract teachers through the local district education authority (State schools) Generally, schools have a welcome package for the supply teacher and payment takes a couple of weeks after the teacher fills in the claim forms. The Admin at the school have a vested interest to build relationships with supply teachers but on a day-to-day basis, sometimes they need an adult(any adult) in front of a class.
Hope there is some food for thought in this.
Lindy
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#3 Dom_Giles

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Posted 08 October 2003 - 04:59 PM

1) I would argue that teaching agencies need to be regulated properly and fully licensed, with a cap on the profits they make from each teacher they put in place and that these are compelled to provide up to date and regular paid training for all their staff, as well as being forced to assist supply teachers in their planning of pensions etc.
2) I would also insist every single supply teacher has to be thoroughly checked in the same manner as any teacher moving to a new post and that if they aren’t qualified to teach they don’t get into the classroom!
3) We should expect every school to establish a policy on introduction of supply teachers and maintain packs of materials that could be given every time someone new starts.
4) The government should devise a proper code of conduct setting out minimum expectations of supply teachers in the classroom and making them more responsible to ensure teach pupils effectively.
5) Councils need to be encouraged and rewarded by the government to establish and maintain a pool of supply teachers available on a regular basis, rewarding good supply teachers with permanent supply contracts. Councils should also help their schools’ manage supply teachers.

I agree totally with these points. As a teacher who works abroad, whenever I return to the UK I do a stint on supply. Generally I find it a rewarding useful experience but the whole area of "Agencies"needs to be reviewed. It is criminal that they cream off the money without supplying the goods and many hard working supply teachers lose out.

I would also like to remind full ime staff that some supply teachers are actually quite good and not just there for the money. i have been annoyed and frustated in the past when walking into a staffroom at 8 a.m. and introduced as "the supply". staff have looked at me as though I was a moneygrabbing failed teacher. I accept that some supply staff are, but not all of us. At least give us the benefit of the doubt! After all, how many of you could leave your comfortable classrooms and, say next monday, walk into a new school where you don't know the staff, students or school rules and cope with a FULL days teaching (no free lessonns for supply staff) probably teaching subjects you are not used too. :( Doing supply has made me a better teacher - something I have to point out when interviewed for a fulltime job.

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#4 Jacko

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Posted 08 October 2003 - 09:04 PM

I am extremely fortunate in having an excellent supply teacher who does all the cover in my department to a very high standard. I have to say this - I'm married to him. :D

#5 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 17 October 2003 - 12:09 AM

I picked this up today from the SchoolZone Newletter. It might be of some interest.

SUPPLY TEACHER CONFERENCE OCTOBER 2003
GO-teaching is presenting its first ever supply teaching conference with
workshops and speakers focussing on behavioural management, professional
development, work life balance and flexibility in the workplace. Go to
www.go-teaching.com for more information.
See: http://www.go-teaching.com






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