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The supply teacher

Many supply teachers get a raw deal. If they work for a private agency they are not eligible to contribute to the Teachers' Pensions Scheme as the agencies will not pay the employer's contribution.

Only teachers who work directly for a school or a local education authority can pay into the TPS, although there is a growing number of agencies set up in partnership with the LEAs which then act as the employers and pay their share of the contributions.

As a supply teacher, you must also remember to join the TPS, as you are not automatically included. You have to fill in Form 261, available from your employer or from the TPS. On the plus side, 195 days' work, even if it is only part-time or is spread out over many years, is equivalent to 365 days'

pension.

Your "service credit" will be calculated by comparing your actual salary with that of a full-time teacher over the same period, which will add more days to your pension record than you have actually worked.

For instance, a teacher who worked 25 days on a supply basis from April 1 to August 31, 2004, would be credited with 47 days' service if she was paid at the top of the main pay scale at pound;142.57 per day.

Supply teachers who contribute to the TPS can also pay additional voluntary contributions to the in-house scheme run by the Prudential. It does not matter if you work a different number of days each week, as contributions are based on a specific percentage of your overall salary. You can also take a break from contributing if you are not working, but you must make sure that each of your employers is aware that you are paying into the AVC scheme.

See if you have a problem 11

Tamsin Buckingham, 32, was forced to take up supply work two years ago when childcare problems made it too difficult for her to continue with her full-time job as head of a design and technology department.

"My child-minder became pregnant and I realised I would actually earn more if I only worked two days a week on supply while my mother looked after my two children," Mrs Buckingham said. "Selling cosmetics would be better paid, but it seems a tragedy after doing my degree and with all I have to give."

She believes that the problem of obtaining affordable childcare on a teacher's salary is one of the main reasons women of her age are leaving teaching. She is the last one of the group she qualified with to stay in the classroom; her friends have left to work as recruitment consultants, estate agents and equestrian experts.

But moving to supply work has had a disastrous effect on her pension. "The first summer, it was almost impossible to get work so I had to claim the ordinary Job Seeker's allowance, which doesn't even give you any credits towards your state pension," she said.

Mrs Buckingham is now working two days a week on a supply contract for a Surrey secondary school, and as she got the job through 4S, the company that runs the country's school support service, she is able to contribute to the TPS.

In fact, she made a deliberate decision to steer clear of private supply agencies: "You might only make pound;100 or pound;120 a day, and then you have to wrangle your way through the tax and national insurance. The lack of pension is the last straw."

Mrs Buckingham is planning to get a pensions forecast and would like to pay into an AVC scheme as a top-up, but is unsure whether this would allow the inevitable breaks in contributions as a supply teacher. "You do feel vulnerable as a supply teacher and it is very hard to plan for the future."

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