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Supply in demand

Penny Cottee asks if it is possible to combine flexibility with a worthwhile career.

Flexible working in a variety of teaching environments, with a healthy pay packet at the end. Supply staff can do just this, and - not surprisingly - the numbers of teachers, classroom assistants and nursery nurses who choose to work this way are growing all the time.

Being able to compare inner city with rural schools, or gain insights into varied educational cultures can be valuable for NQTs, looking for their niche.

Many retired teachers also appear on supply teaching agencies' books, as they can make a real contribution in the classroom.

"Mature teachers enjoy the rewards and motivation that originally steered them to education, only with more flexibility, and without the hours and extra-curricular responsibilities of full-time positions," says Bob Wicks, Chief Excutive of Select Education, which provides staff for almost 12,000 teaching days a week. Women returners, too, can put a toe in the educational water, building up from a few hours a week, to achieve the work-family balance they want.

Good agencies also cater for specialisms, including special educational needs, so staff needn't worry about losing hard-won skills. Suppy teaching is no longer just emergency cover - that early morning phone call which wipes out other plans for the day.

Many teachers and nursery nurses choose to settle into long-term assignments of one or more terms, while others are, to all intents and purposes, full-time.

Of course, the relative insecurity of contract working may not suit you, and as a supply teacher you can't contribute to the Teacher Pension Agency's superannuation scheme. And day-to-day supply staff may not access the school's culture and society as a full-timer would. Bob Wicks also cautions: "Working as a supply teacher may not be a wise choice for ambitious go-getters with sights set on a headship."

But a growing number of teachers are making professional supply teaching a career choice. Teaming up with a good agency, you can work as much as you like. Agencies should match you with the school, subject, and position which suits your aspirations.

With the government's consultation on supply teachers highlighting the importance of quality training and development for supply staff, it seems the once forgotten army of supply teachers may yet achieve the status they deserve - that of being an invaluable educational support.

Stand E39

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