Supply teachers face an especially uncertain future

Everyone in education is facing it, but spare a thought for supply teachers who have seen work dry up and a future where moving between schools easily is unlikely, says Alex Waite

Alex Waite

supply teacher fight for pay

There is no doubt that all teachers have faced huge difficulties over the past few months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Adapting to a new way of teaching and education has been a testing period. Thankfully, some form of in-school education is returning.

However, as a supply teacher, I have not experienced any of this "new normal" as the constraints of being a supply teacher continued to be laid bare ever since schools closed their doors to the majority of pupils in March.

Nothing but cons

There are many pros and cons to being a supply teacher, but the downside of casual and non-contractual work has really come to fruition over the past three months.

The struggle for work has been difficult and has also come at a financial cost of losing what used to be a steady flow of income.

It has forced many supply teachers to seek government support through Universal Credit or through alternative forms of work.

I started my first academic year as a supply teacher in September.

After some initial worry about the regularity of work and the risk of not finding employment, regular placements became available straight away and daily work, often in different schools, was soon the norm for me.

I was truly enjoying casual and short-term placements and any early doubt of my career change evaporated.

By November, I secured a placement for the remainder of the year at a fantastic school and was starting to feel settled and secure.

The return of the dread

However, once the pandemic appeared, my doubts from early September about the availability of work returned, tenfold.

As Gavin Williamson made the announcement in the House of Commons on 18 March that schools would be closing their doors until further notice, my heart sank and my mind started racing about how I would possibly survive from now on.

Fast forward three months, I have had no placement offers and work has completely dried up. It is as bad as I had feared.

Obviously, this is unsurprising as only select year groups have returned with plenty of school staff on hand to support bubbles.

What's worse, though, is that it appears the difficulties and worry for a lot of supply teachers could well continue over the summer and into the next academic year.

With many agency staff also on furlough, as well as some supply teachers, it seems likely that regular work for supply teachers may not gear up again until September as some schools look to fill short- and long-term positions.

Hopefully, there will be some silver lining for September roles.

Can we move about?

Another worry is whether schools will want external teachers coming in for casual, short-term placements due to social distancing and the strict measures still in place.

So much of my work as supply was based on being available at short notice and being able to move freely between schools, but will staff members in school want someone coming in without knowing if they have had coronavirus?

Also, for the pupils, now more than ever, they require consistency and familiar faces to guide them through an extremely challenging period of uncertainty and a complete upheaval in the world they used to know.

Again, will schools be willing to make a further change that could disrupt the children’s education further?

A hazy future

There is still so much unknown space over the next few months that it is difficult to comprehend and plan a way forward as a supply teacher. It may be a necessity to take up any role rather than have a choice come September.

We could see the context of supply teaching change completely and just become long-term and more permanent placements, especially with all the "catch up" the government is planning. It could become a case of all hands to the pump.

Of course, much of the questioning and speculation for supply teachers will depend on individual circumstances.

Personally, though, I will be making a decision to accept anything that is put my way from my agency for September, whether it be long term, short term, casual or permanent.

This is purely to provide some much-needed stability and to give me a sigh of relief that has been lacking massively since March.

Alex Waite has worked for seven years, including four years teaching in key stage two. He took up supply teaching in south London in September, working in a variety of long-term and short-term roles. 

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