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Temps can uncover permanent shortfalls

As one of many temporary teachers who has worked in a large number of primary schools, I have often thought that we could be a useful source of additional information to both the local authority and the inspectorate.

After all, who pays any attention to the lowly supply teacher? We see schools just as they are. There are no special preparations made for our visits. When I am in a school, no attempt is made to flatter me, or show off the school to its best advantage. I see it as it really is.

Normally I see a well-run school, one where a new temporary teacher is greeted and escorted to the appropriate classroom. However, I have entered a school for the first time, and wandered unchallenged along corridors looking for the office. When I find the office, a harassed secretary will give me directions to the classroom. I arrive there to find the children already in the room, with the teacher from next door popping in occasionally to shout at them to be quiet.

On arrival at a new school, we get the feel of the ethos of the establishment from our welcome, or the lack of it. Does anyone know we are expected? Who can tell us where the classroom is? When we get there, have any preparations been made for us?

There is, of course, a vast area of difference in the amount of preparation that has been made for a supply teacher's arrival, depending on the circumstances. If a teacher is not in class because of a planned in-service course, then the supply teacher should expect at least an outline of the day's timetable. In most schools, this is exactly what happens. But I have been waved nonchalantly in the direction of an open classroom door with the accompanying words: "Do whatever you like, I don't mind."

Naturally, I take the precaution of always having a supply of suitable and interesting work with me. This sometimes falls down when I am told on the phone that I will be taking an infant class, then arrive to be presented with a change of plan, and 33 11-year-olds.

On the occasions when I am replacing a teacher who is absent due to illness, then the difference in schools really begins to be noticeable. In some classrooms the daily, weekly or monthly plans are easy to find and act on. In other situations, the teacher has either taken everything home, or has hidden them so cunningly that they cannot be found. This is when the quality of a school's forward planning becomes most obvious.

The staffroom often gives the temporary teacher a good idea of how well the school operates. The differences in the attitude of the staff towards temporary members can be very illuminating. Most often they are eager to help, and can be a useful source of information. However, in other schools, the temporary teacher is left strictly alone to get on with the work as best as she can.

On the first visit to a school, the supply teacher acting as temporary inspector should be supplied with a check-list to complete, possibly giving the school a rating on a scale from one to five. The best way to issue it would be through the local authority, who could send forms to several teachers who had worked temporarily at the same school, and that way obtain a series of "snapshot" impressions.

The completed forms would have to be sent directly by the teacher to the local authority. This would ensure that the headteacher would not know if someone had given the school a less than perfect report. This would act as a precaution to protect the temporary teacher from the wrath of the headteacher, whose retaliation might take the form of never employing that particular teacher again.

The check-list could include such areas as school security, initial welcome, availability and accessibility of essential information (such as daily diary and forward plans), staff helpfulness, and include a space for other appropriate comments. I'm sure that any headteacher, confident of the school's excellence, would be happy to have it confirmed by an objective outside source.

As well as providing the authorities with information on the first impressions schools give, it might also improve the lot of the poor temporary teacher, who may be treated by the schools with a smidgin more thoughtfulness and maybe even respect.

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