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Actors relish role of stand-in

Schools turn to theatre company for supply cover. William Stewart reports

Schools are turning to out-of-work actors to provide supply cover and bring topics to life in drama.

Business has boomed for Bigfoot, a London-based theatre in education company, since it set up its own supply agency in 2002. It estimates that as many as 20 schools now rely on it as their sole external source of supply staff, with 50, mainly primaries, using it on a regular basis.

Paul McVeigh, 36, who studied theatre at university, used to write gags for comics such as Lily Savage. He never dreamed he would end up working as a supply teacher. He said: "I remember from my school days people coming in as supply and looking really frightened. The class would just go crazy and I certainly wouldn't want to be on the other end of that."

He now works two-and-a-half days a week at Thomas Buxton infant in east London. "I just love working with primary kids with their energy and their humour," he said. "And this gives me the freedom and flexibility to carry on with my passion and career as a writer."

Scott Young, Bigfoot's supply co-ordinator, who trained as an actor, came up with the idea after running operations for one of the big established supply teaching agencies across several inner London boroughs.

"I found there was a lot of sending in bodies in front of a class but not a lot was being done with the kids," he said. "I had the idea of using drama as the springboard for schools doing something different with them. The creativity of it is a bonus as kids are getting something really special from their day."

Bigfoot's tutors look at what topics classes have been studying and then devise their own lesson plans around them, using drama to bring everything from phonics to numeracy and history to life. The majority of those on his books are not qualified teachers but do have drama training. Mr Young said:

"You might turn up expecting to teach a Year 5 group and then find it is a Year 2 one instead.

"Qualified teachers are more used to working to a rigid lesson plan. Our supply staff can be more flexible."

Nicola Horton, head of Thomas Buxton infant, is a convert and now uses Bigfoot for her supply cover whenever she can. It is not just that the fees of Pounds 175 a day, with pound;100 going to the actor, are less than those of many conventional supply agencies, she says.

"Ninety-six per cent of our children have English as a second language, so anything that gets them up and expressing themselves is good, and the Bigfoot tutors do that very well," she said.

"They have good behaviour management strategies, they engage the children and are unfailingly polite and pleasant to have around the place."

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

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