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Supply Teaching - Getting Work

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Once you’ve made the decision, for whatever reason, to do supply teaching the most important question is how to actually get work? A quick Google search will bring up any number of supply teaching agencies operating in your area, but there is no guarantee that any of them will get you work.

It would be tempting to sign up with all of them, but this would increase the amount of work you get and may actually be counter-productive. Agencies in a particular area tend to know each other and will soon suss out whether you are signed up with multiple agencies. Meaning they will contact those on their books which they know are more likely to be available rather than those who might not.  So how do you get more work?

If you are already working in a school or know lots of supply teachers, you could ask their opinion on which agency to join. Sometimes agencies even have a ‘refer a friend scheme’ where the supply teacher who introduces a friend to the agency gets a cash bonus or similar once the new teacher has worked for the agency for a set number of days/assignments. However working with an agency can be a very personal business. Just because one person likes, or dislikes, a particular agency doesn’t mean that you will have the same working relationship. A personal recommendation can work, but it can also backfire horribly.

You could contact your local authority and register for their supply list. Some local authorities still operate this, but most don’t. Even here in Cumbria where the LA does have a supply list, most schools either use an agency or employ their supply teachers direct.

Another possibility, which takes a bit of work, would be to search for schools in your local area that you know you’d like to work at. You can limit this to schools within a certain distance, age phase (secondary or primary, et. .c) or even avoid certain schools if you know you would not like to work there. Once you have your list of schools, contact each one and ask to be added to their supply teaching list. How you contact them is up to you, but I’d start with an initial phone call and then maybe drop off my CV or contact details.

Some, but not all, schools employ their supply teachers direct, and others use an agency. If they reply and say, they use a particular agency make a note of which one. Once you have a response from all your targeted school, you can then join the most popular agency or agencies. This still doesn’t guarantee you work and you might want to join other agencies as well but you’ve taken some of the guesswork out of which agencies would be the right ones to join.

The other advantage of this approach is that some of the schools might add you to their own list of available supply teachers and contact you direct rather than through an agency.  This has its advantages in that you are more likely to be paid to scale and be able to have pension contributions paid into the Teachers Pension Fund. Agencies cannot pay into this fund although they should enroll you onto their own pension should you wish it.

The one issue of this with this approach that you could end up with more than one employer. For example, the Local Authority will pay you for the work you do in their schools and the agency(ies) will pay you for the work you do for them. It gets even more complicated if the school you work for deals with their own payroll rather than the local authority. Which happened in a school I used to work at- it wasn’t an academy but it did its own payroll meaning that I didn’t actually work for the local authority unlike teachers at other schools in the area.

This issue can be solved by either splitting your tax code between all your employees and assigning a percentage to each or just waiting until the end of the tax year and claim a tax rebate on the overpaid tax. Splitting your code might work but it would be dependent on guessing how much work you got from each employer.

Finally, it’s a sad fact that there are no hard and fast rules for getting more supply work. You could do all the right things and still not get much work. This shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on your teaching abilities but the supply teaching market is very competitive and many schools, particularly at secondary level, try to cover absences ‘in-house’ rather than pay for a supply teacher.

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