A "KITEMARK" awarded by the Government should soon allow schools to separate the best supply-teacher agencies from the rest.
The proposal comes in the Department for Education and Employment's consultation paper, Supply Teachers: Meeting the Challenge.
The report has two major aims: to ensure schools can be certain of getting the right quality of teacher; and to make sure supply staff aren't left behind when it comes to professional development.
The ultimate goal is a familiar one: raising standards. After all, the authors note, it is often struggling schools that rely most on supply teachers. Ensuring that the teachers are of the right quality and up to date with the latest teaching techniques is threfore crucial if performance is to improve.
The "quality mark" scheme is proposed for agencies and education authorities who supply schools with temporary teachers.
Only agencies that meet the standard will qualify for money from the Government's Standards Fund, which can be used to train supply teachers.
The criteria for the quality standard will be worked out by the department with the help of human resources experts, says the report.
The mark will be awarded and managed directly by the DFEE, which will employ assessors to evaluate agencies - a process expected to take around three days for each.
Professional development for school staff - both teaching and non-teaching - has long been recognised as essential in a rapidly-changing environment, even for teachers who remain in the same job. But training for supply teachers is patchy and the DFEE wants to clarify exactly who is responsible for their ongoing training.
The document envisages that "agencies will take responsibility for ensuring their supply teachers undertake professional development, by contributing to the cost" although thre is no indication of what such contributions should be.
However, in an attempt to encourage agencies to provide a single teacher to cover long-term absences, the DFEE says schools are responsible for the training of long-term supply teachers, and the cash for this is already provided for through the Standards Fund.
While focusing on standards and professional development, the report also has some practical tips for school managers.
It says: "Supply teachers are more effective in schools which have good support systems - some supply teachers choose to teach only in schools which offer appropriate support."
School introduction packs, it says, must be issued to all supply teachers in future. Model packs will be given to schools to adapt for their own use.
The report says a supply teacher should be given maps of the school, a named contact and details of what is expected of him or her during non-teaching times.
The pack should also clearly set out the school's expectations of the teacher. For example, these might include a requirement that all marking should be completed and that specified lesson-plans should be followed.
"Supply Teachers: Meeting the Challenge", by DFEE publications. For details ring 0845 6022260 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
SUPPLY TEACHERS: MEETING THE CHALLENGE.
Supply teachers must:
keep a personal portfolio of their training and experience;
keep up to date by attending training courses as required;
understand how to deliver key strategies, such as literacy and numeracy.
include regular and long-term supply teachers in staff training;
provide introduction packs for new supply teachers;
set out their expectations of supply teachers.
To be awarded the DFEE's new "Kitemark", agencies must:
Supply staff of the right quality;
Take responsibility for keeping staff up to date with professional development.