When Go-Teaching ran a morning's induction for 30 of its supply teachers, more than 50 turned up. "That was when we realised we were right to think there was a demand for supply teacher training," says Anita Mitchell, its chief executive .
Supply teachers often complain of being dropped into schools with no more idea of the culture than a newly arrived Martian would have. So Go-Teaching's idea was to offer a guide to what schools and temporary teachers could expect from each other. Now, the four-hour induction course is compulsory for teachers on its books.
"It's good to have a set system mapped out - with key indicators such as school culture, expectations and background on classes," says Ms Mitchell.
"If there is one element that makes a difference to supply teachers'
effectiveness, it is proper induction to the school and the classes they will be teaching."
Go-Teaching, originally launched by Devon County Council, but now run by 14 local education authorities across the south of England, has online profiles of its member schools: everything from parking facilities to previous inspections, and it charges no fee for those who are offered a permanent position. It pays according to teachers' salary scales rather than a flat fee, and offers opportunities for continuing professional development.
The agency, which hopes to expand into London, says it can offer savings to local education authorities through centralised administration, including criminal record checks.
"I found Go-Teaching's induction course very enabling," says Bernadine Bedneau, 26, who had been teaching for three years when she moved from London to Devon. She decided to get to know the Barnstaple area through supply work before looking for permanent posts.
"There was an element of updating, especially in child protection, which was useful. But most important was realising what support you are entitled to have from the school," she says. "As a supply teacher, you can feel quite exposed. It's good to be given information about behaviour problems and school discipline policies.
"Another benefit was meeting other supply teachers who have worked in schools in the same area."
Go-Teaching's induction morning is delivered by John Stephens, head of Manor primary school in Ivybridge, near Plymouth.
"We ask the teachers to define the role of a supply teacher," he says. "All too often the reply comes back as, 'Just filling-in.' But it's more than that. Schools like to build up a relationship with their regular supply teachers.
"We cover pay and conditions, classroom management, special needs, health and safety and the information a teacher should expect from a school on arrival.
"After 25 of these courses, we've gathered a lot of feedback from teachers about what they would like from schools. We now have a draft document which we hope will go out to schools shortly. We hope it will help to standardise supply procedure.
"The idea is that each teacher will get a short document giving basic details of the school - where to find class rules, timetables, session times, behaviour problems and so on."
Go-Teaching's induction may be unusual, but it is by no means unique.
Indeed, several of the larger supply agencies now offer a widening range of training and continuous professional development.
EM Direct runs a supply agency in Lincolnshire and manages the Suffolk county council supply teacher service. Tony Cook of EM says: "There are many new initiatives to raise standards which temporary and supply staff are expected to be able to deliver - it's vital to keep up.
"It is every teacher's responsibility to keep up to date with professional development. Supply teachers cannot expect training to be handed to them on a plate. They need to make an effort to source it as well.
"Termly contract teachers seem to be less well catered for as they tend to be contracted by schools rather than agencies, so they are reliant on their employing school - and there can sometimes be a reluctance by schools to offer training to a teacher who is there for just one term."
EM Direct's courses also include induction for newly qualified teachers, training for returners, and subject boosters. The agency is also launching a range of e-learning modules this month which will cover literacy, numeracy, early years, the key stage 3 strategy, behaviour, special needs, inclusion, and the gifted and talented.
Select Education also offers training as well as an extended initial interview which covers the main supply issues. This month, the agency is launching revised behaviour management courses online.
"We provide candidates with information and the standards we expect from them, along with information like 'top tips' for supply teaching and access to our resource library," says David Rose of Select.
"Many supply teachers will work in lots of different schools so they are briefed each time before they undertake a new assignment."
Select's courses include the national literacy and numeracy strategies, special needs teaching, secondary to primary conversion, and the role of teaching assistants.
In November, Select will release findings from research undertaken with London's Institute of Education into the needs of supply teachers and teaching assistants.
Useful web addresses: www.emdirect.co.ukwww.selecteducation.co.ukwww.go-teaching.com