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Staff agencies have high standards

Nick Melton's provocative opinions (TES, December 12) need balancing with some facts.

I don't doubt that his experience of an unnamed supply agency in Dorset was as he described. However some of the statements he then goes on to make, are unsubstantiated.

The fact is there are thousands of headteachers in state schools all over the country, who would be delighted to tell Mr Melton and The TES that their stressful, overloaded jobs have been made infinitely easier because of the fast, reliable and high-quality service they get from private agencies like Capstan. In fact some even spontaneously ring us, offering to put the record straight whenever an unbalanced account appears.

Equally, there are supply teachers all over the country who have joined reputable agencies like ours because they know they will be treated professionally, paid on time and provided with regular and suitable work for their skills and experience.

It is an insult to these teachers for Mr Melton to insinuate they are not vigorously vetted. His belief that agencies are not following the same rigorous procedure as his own local education authority is a mischievous and sweeping statement to put in writing. It casts an unwarranted slur on the integrity of agencies like Capstan, who vet every candidate to a far higher standard than is actually required by law.

We do this not only because our business is utterly dependent on the quality of the teachers we recruit, but also because we take our responsibilities towards the education of children very seriously indeed. Any teacher who has not entered a classroom for 25 years, as quoted in Mr Melton's article, certainly wouldn't meet our criteria for inclusion on our supply list. And while Dorset may well vet rigorously, we know there are dozens of other LEAs who don't.

Mr Melton asks: who benefits? This is who, and why.

* The headteacher: in what other profession would the most expensive member of staff spend hours of their precious time, wading through a list, trying to find a temporary cover?

* The supply teacher: in addition to providing regular and suitable teaching posts, reputable agencies help supply teachers meet the demands of supply teaching and provide moral support and advice.

* The children: reputable agencies ensure that supply teachers receive appropriate induction and know they must deliver proper lessons to the children in their charge. Lesson plans are thoroughly researched for situations and for all aspects of the national curriculum, so any disruption caused by the absence of their regular class teacher is kept to a minimum. This is a far cry from the days when children were sent home because there was no-one to teach them.

* The staff teachers: agencies like ours also ensure that supply teachers know they must leave comprehensive hand-over notes for the returning teacher and also how to behave professionally wherever they are in the school - classroom, playground or staffroom.

I object to Mr Melton's inference that agencies are using trickery to cream money off schools, teachers and the public purse.

The problem is not that agencies exist. The problem is that there isn't a legal framework which ensures that all agencies, as well as LEAs recruit and vet supply teachers to the same high standards.

RAY MERCER

Director Capstan Teachers London SE10

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