February 14, 2024

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Working as a Supply Teacher

According to a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), teacher vacancies in England alone have nearly doubled since before Covid, with vacancies posted by schools a staggering 93% higher in the academic year up to February 2023 than at the same point in the year before.  

If nothing else, this proves just how crucial supply teachers are to the UK’s education system. Their work shields children’s learning from the effects of staff absences and helps schools plan for all eventualities. 

Yet supply teaching can often be overlooked as a career route, both by newly qualified teachers and more experienced teachers looking to change jobs. Whether this is down to negative preconceptions about the role of supply or simply a lack of awareness of the advantages of working as a supply teacher is unclear. 

To give teachers a fuller picture of the realities of supply as a pathway, we have pulled together the basic facts around people’s choices to become supply teachers and what it’s like to work as one in 2024.  

Why Do People Become Supply Teachers?

Supply teachers can be strongly independent-minded and no teacher will have precisely the same motivations as another. 

However, there are some perennial attractions to working in supply. The NEU’s most recent survey found that in recent years, the single reason for moving into supply work among the current supply workforce was the workload in permanent posts. This was followed by supply teachers choosing this route thanks to the flexibility it offers. Supply teachers have the freedom to pick their own working patterns and shape their professional lives around their other personal commitments and passions. 

At Teaching Personnel, we work with thousands of supply teachers every year. Many of our registered supply teachers were drawn to the job because it allowed them to pursue passion projects alongside their teaching work. 

One of these educators, Zoe Langley-Watham, balances working in schools with running an outdoor sports podcast. ‘Working as an agency means I can pick and choose when I work. The flexibility fits perfectly around my lifestyle, to allow for my podcast interviews and editing and writing’, she explains. 

As well as control over their own schedules, supply teachers often see the variety of work on offer as a major boon to their professional development. A week in the life of a daily supply teacher might see them work in up to five schools, adapting to each institution’s modus operandi and teaching some potentially very different class groups. 

For newer teachers, such a tapestry of experiences can build up skills quickly. Working across different settings tests pedagogical skills and gives priceless insights into how schools function. 

As well as being exposed to a plurality of school settings, pupils and learning styles, daily supply teachers can focus their working time and attention on doing what they do best – teaching. For many supply teachers working daily placements, one of the biggest perks of the job is freedom from the administrative aspects of life as a permanent teacher – parents’ evenings, marking and other miscellaneous paperwork. 

If any of these benefits of working as a supply teacher appeal to you, Teaching Personnel can help you find a steady stream of quality roles at schools in your target area. All you have to do is register.

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What Does It Take To Become a Supply Teacher?

There are no qualifications that act as barriers for becoming a supply teacher beyond those already required to teach in the UK. 

This means that, to become a supply teacher, you will need an undergraduate degree, passing grades in GCSE English and Maths (and science subjects if you intend to teach pupils aged 3-11) and Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) earned through a programme of Initial Teacher Training (ITT). You can get more information about required qualifications for supply teachers here

Beyond these baseline requirements, the most effective supply teachers will generally possess a few key traits and personal qualities. When each week takes you through the gates of a different set of schools, flexibility pays dividends. Supply teachers need to be able to cope with unfamiliarity and adapt to new circumstances at speed. You’ll probably have to work across different age groups and parts of the curriculum. If you can take these abrupt shifts in your stride, then you might be well suited to working in supply. 

That flexible approach also calls for watertight organisational skills. You’ll need to be able to turn up to a school early, after navigating yourself to areas you might never have visited before, armed with a bag full of all the equipment you need and a few spare lesson plans in case the class teacher hasn’t left one for you.   

How Can I Find Work as a Supply Teacher?

30 years ago, most supply teachers would have found work through their local authority’s supply pool; a registry of teachers in the area that schools would draw from when they needed to fill absences. 

While some local authorities have maintained supply pool arrangements, most supply teachers in 2024 will find work through teaching agencies like Teaching Personnel. 

Typically, a supply teacher will register their details with an agency. That agency will have partnership arrangements with a network of schools in a particular area. When a school contacts the agency to let them know that they need cover, the agency’s recruitment consultants will select the teacher on their database who they think would make the best fit. They will then contact that teacher to let them know about the opportunity. If the teacher accepts, then off to school they go. 

It is possible to apply directly to schools and circumvent agencies or local authority supply pools. Yet this has considerable time pressures, requiring supply teachers to effectively run self-marketing operations for an audience of schools whose default option, when looking for staff, is to call up their favoured agency. 

How Should I Pick a Supply Agency To Work With?

With dozens of supply agencies operating in the UK, jobbing teachers are spoilt for choice. So how should a supply teacher make an informed choice of which one to work through? 

Several factors should influence your decision here. The first is reputation. It is always worth checking out online testimonials on review sites like Feefo to ensure that an agency has a consistent track record of quality service.   

Pupil safeguarding stipulations are another useful proxy for an agency’s good repute. If an agency can demonstrate stringent vetting protocols for candidates, that shows that they can afford to turn ill-suited candidates away in order to protect their reputation. 

It’s also worth checking whether a supply agency offers opportunities for training and professional development. Teaching Personnel gives all our registered educators access to our CPD Academy, a repository of accredited Continuing Professional Development online training courses, as well as over 200,000 free lesson materials. This suite of services allows supply teachers to upskill more easily in their own time, building valuable competencies in the most important aspects of contemporary education that will give any CV a little bit more lustre in the eyes of employers. 

Every educator should always stay vigilant to the pitfalls posed by teaching agencies that actually operate through the use of umbrella companies. 

An umbrella company is a separate company that acts as a contracted employer for those working in a supply capacity. This means that the umbrella company processes timesheets and invoices and operates a payroll, paying employees a salary after making deductions. 

The problem comes in those deductions. While an umbrella company may promise a higher rate on paper, the teacher may eventually be short-changed by having to pay the employer’s National Insurance Contributions on top of their own. They may also see more money deducted for nebulous administrative costs. When their payslip has been processed and all these deductions made, it is possible they’ll receive less than they bargained for. 

Read our article on how to choose a supply agency for some more in-depth information on picking correctly and keeping yourself safe from bad actors.  

How to choose the right supply teacher agency for you | Teaching Personnel
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How Much Do Supply Teachers Earn?

There is a common misconception in education that supply teachers earn significantly less than their peers in permanent roles. In actual fact, supply teachers can command high rates of pay. Location, experience, and local demand are all factors that determine this. 

The DfE’s official School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document sets out the various pay scales that teachers are entitled to. They vary by location. While the document itself does not break this down into daily rates of pay, the NASUWT has calculated this by dividing the annual salary for each band by the 195 days that make up a teacher’s working year. You can view it here

Your earnings as a supply teacher will partly depend on your choice of agency. At Teaching Personnel, we are proud to offer competitive rates of pay, processed each week. When you register with us, your consultant will discuss your pay expectations with you, giving you an honest appraisal of what partner schools are willing to pay in your location, balanced against how often you wish to work. 

Supply teachers are also auto-enrolled by agencies like Teaching Personnel onto a workplace pension scheme, so you can always be confident that your contributions are going towards your future.  

Can I Work as a Supply Teacher After Retirement?

Absolutely. For many former full-time teachers, retirement has not meant a final departure from the classroom. Supply agencies are frequently contacted by retired teachers who want to continue shaping young minds. These experienced educators may go to schools one or two days a week, practising their lifelong vocation on their own chosen schedules and making a positive impact on pupils’ lives. 

The DfE’s appeal to retired teachers to join supply agencies in December 2021 to help schools deal with a wave of coronavirus-related staff absences is a testament to the crucial role that educators can play in supporting education after pension age.  

Can I Switch From Supply Teaching to a Permanent Teaching Job?

There is nothing stopping supply teachers from applying for permanent roles. Sometimes, seasoned supply teachers decide they would like a bit more constancy in their working lives.

For CM, an educator registered with Teaching Personnel, working as a supply teacher has provided ‘invaluable experience and a variety of working in many different schools and year groups, over the years’. Supply work helps teachers build up a wide portfolio of skills, born of long hours in many classrooms, that can furnish a personal statement and be sprinkled into job interviews. In this sense, long-term supply teachers can be eminently employable when they decide to pursue a permanent role.

Does Supply Teaching Contribute to My ECT Induction?

Yes, but only for supply teachers on longer-term contracts. As long as your contracted employment period covers a minimum of one full induction term, your work as a supply teacher will count towards your early career teacher (ECT) induction. 

Daily supply work or placements of less than a term will not count towards induction. This is because the DfE does not consider such work to provide the ‘breadth of experience, support and assessment’ sufficient to meet the Official Teachers’ Standards. 

You can find out more about the requirements for passing your ECT induction in our deep-dive.

The Complete Guide to Life as an Early Career Teacher | Teaching Personnel
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Get To Work as a Supply Teacher

Supply work is too often viewed as the poor relation to full-time teaching. Yet this lingering myth prevents many educators from finding a working schedule that would ultimately suit them better. 

The work that supply teachers do each day keeps schools functioning safely and effectively. Beyond its critical role in the education system, supply teaching offers huge opportunities for growth, professional development and, yes, earning power. 

Whether you’re a newbie who’s just passed their ECT induction, an established professional seeking a new challenge or a retired teacher looking to make a return to the classroom on your own terms, countless schools are waiting to hear from you.   

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