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Raising the status of our supply teachers

News Focus (TES, March 17) raised a number of interesting questions for schools attempting to secure the service of temporary teaching staff - and highlighted some of the problems arising from the demise of the local education authority supply organisations.

Birmingham has decided to continue to run its own supply teaching organisation, partly out of loyalty to its existing teaching force but more importantly in order to offer an alternative to private agencies. This gives schools the opportunity to deal with a body which has not simply been created in order to make a profit but rather to provide an effective and worthwhile service at cost to its customers.

The agency currently has just over 100 permanent teachers but the flexibility of the organisation has been improved by the creation of an associate teacher scheme whereby additional teachers become linked to the agency on a limited contract basis.

These teachers, mostly selected by recommendation (often by schools), phase and subject requirements, and interview make it possible to meet variable demand throughout the year without incurring unnecessary costs.

At the same time these associate teachers become eligible, like those permanently employed, for training which helps to ensure that the agency's supply teachers, perhaps unlike those used by the private agencies, are kept fully up to date with education developments. Schools employing staff agency teachers can also take advantage of "price banking", a cost-cutting innovation which reduces charges for multiple use of the cover team.

The creation of a staff handbook, a loose-leaf file of relevant documentation regularly updated, was seen as a necessity to ensure that agency staff knew precisely what was expected of them in their role as supply teachers, as well as being a repository of record sheets etc. and a useful personal organiser.

The staff agency wants to raise the status of supply teachers to the point where they are not only recognised as "real" teachers, but are also credited with the special skills and aptitudes which are necessary to do this work successfully.

MIKE COLLINS

Birmingham Staff Agency Education department Birmingham City Council

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