During the latter part of my teaching career, I did a lot of supply teaching because schools seemed to prefer the low-cost inexperience of an NQT over the high-cost experience of a veteran teacher who just wanted to be back in the classroom. I experienced a cross section of schools, primary, secondary and special needs (I passed on nursery supply!) across London and Kent as well as the north-west of England. I experienced multiple supply agencies and compared experiences with dozens of teachers. I also had some very interesting conversations with headteachers.
My conclusion from all of this? Why are the expectations placed on the shoulders of the supply teacher so low? Survive the day, don’t break the furniture, maintain some control in the classroom — that will be OK. Sadly, too many supply teachers feel the same way as they enter yet another strange classroom. Simply survive.
This is so wrong and so unfair to everyone involved — and it needn’t be like this.
My point today is that a school has no right to have any expectations of a supply teacher unless it fulfils its part of what should be an explicit bargain. Part of this bargain is based on the provocative premise that no teacher is indispensable or irreplaceable. Just as in any commercial organisation, a school should have a business continuity and resilience policy designed to minimise the impact of any challenge to the continuity of service — in this case teaching and learning, even for just one day!
What this means in practice is that teaching, and learning should continue seamlessly during the time that the supply teacher is in post. This means that a newly-arriving supply teacher has sufficient and appropriate material to deliver a lesson as close as possible to what would have happened anyway. With the widespread availability of a school’s teaching resources online, this should be a matter of course. Sadly, too often this isn’t the case.
Part of what we are trying to do at First Class Education is to work very closely with our schools to ensure that our supply teachers are fully equipped to teach and ready to deliver a great learning experience from the moment they enter the classroom. Our partnership with our schools, and the wrap-around service we provide is key to this.
Peter Cobrin entered teaching by accident in 1981 to provide cover for a few days and stayed at the same school for 15 years first as a teacher of history and politics, then head of department and de facto head of sixth form. Later in his career he was a lead adviser in the Building Schools for the Future programme and now he is a key member of the First Class Education family, focusing on innovation and special projects.