"I’m new to supply. What tips can you give me?"
This question will always appear without fail in various Facebook groups for supply teachers. Fortunately, because supply teachers are a friendly bunch, they are always willing to help out a newbie.
However, although the comments are soon full of tips on behaviour management and ideas of what should be in a supply teacher’s bag, there is rarely any advice on how to protect your rights as a supply teacher.
And this is a shame, because the practical classroom stuff is easily picked up, but leaving the legal stuff too late could be a disaster.
And disasters do happen.
You can see where things have gone wrong if you scroll down those Facebook pages. You’ll read stories of teachers being paid below the going rate, or unable to secure permanent positions due to extortionate "finders fees".
Tough times in the current climate
Knowing your rights as a supply teacher has never been more important. This year, many newly qualified teachers faced recruitment challenges with schools putting off recruitment during lockdown. These NQTs joined more experienced teachers who have moved over to supply because they want a job where they can have more control over their time.
This isn't the only challenge. Headteachers are wary of having "visitors" in school (despite the official guidance giving a green light to schools to use supply teachers) and consequently, agencies are pushing rates down as they compete to get their teachers into the few available roles.
It won't surprise you to hear that when I see those questions from teachers new to supply, my response is always: "First and foremost, know your rights as a supply teacher." Not doing so could cost you thousands of pounds in lost pay and ultimately cost you that job you love.
Here are my top five tips for supply teachers when it comes to rights:
1. Beware free trial days
Free trial days are cropping up more frequently. Your agency says a school is really interested in you, but before offering you the role, they want you to work there for a day for free.
My advice is to always say no to this. Being observed for half an hour as part of an interview process is fine, but working for a day for free is not.
Worst case scenario: no one will observe you and you’ll never hear from them again anyway. You’ve just done a normal day’s supply, but not been paid.
2. You can negotiate your rate
I would always recommend that you don’t accept the first rate that the agency offers. Consultants spend all day negotiating and so won’t be surprised when you do the same.
Then, when you have agreed on a rate, get it in writing. Even if it’s a last-minute morning call, they can put the rate in the text along with the postcode. If they don’t, ring back and ask for it before you leave the house.
3. Read the Agency Worker Regulations (AWR)
Always make yourself familiar with this document because this legislation is what gives you the right to the same pay as a permanent teacher in the school.
You will need to work for a "hirer" for 12 weeks to qualify. However, the way 12 weeks are counted and what constitutes a hirer is broader than you may think.
4. Be aware of 'finders’ fees'
The contract between the school and the agency should contain a clause regarding finders’ fees. However, if you haven’t worked at the school for eight weeks and it’s been more than 14 weeks since you first worked there, then the school doesn’t have to pay a finder’s fee.
As many supply teachers haven’t worked for well over eight weeks, this is the perfect time to apply to work directly for the schools you love.
5. You can (and should) join a union
You can also ask about discounted rates for supply teachers –just call the advice line and see what they offer.
Anne Morgan is a supply teacher in Greater Manchester