What benefits are there to a school employing a supply teacher? Is he or she welcomed with enthusiasm by the pupils and can the regular teacher be sure that all will be well on return to the classroom? Or is he or she someone dreaded by staff and pupils alike; a body in front of the class until normal operations resume?
Dare I suggest that it depends on how the supply teacher is treated.
I've had the good fortune of steady supply work in East Sussex in the same primary and secondary schools over some years. I was expected to prepare lessons and mark all work. When requested, I assessed work for pupils' profiles.
The education department of the local authority had a well-organised supply list, updated each month, informing the schools which teachers were available. My day's pay was that of a main professional grade teacher with a small amount included for the holidays, as all teachers expect. The pay-slip recorded which schools I'd worked at and made it easy for me to check that my pay was correct.
Recently my husband changed his job, we moved and I've had to change to a new education authority. It is a far cry from East Sussex. The attitude of both senior teachers and of administrators in the authority leave a lot to be desired.
My first pay slip seemed incorrect but I couldn't even check which schools I'd been paid for. On enquiring about how the pay was made up, I was told I was not paid for preparation, planning or marking. How I was going to teach then? Further, that if I indulged in these activities I would need to negotiate with the headteacher concerned.
It would be extremely difficult for me not to do at least one of these activities. Does the poor old regular class teacher really need to be faced with marking on return from illness or a course? Or perhaps the attitude is that work shouldn't be marked - ask any child how they feel about that. At another school, the instruction that supply teachers should not prepare, plan or mark was taken literally by senior teachers. I was given five lessons, covering five different teachers and five different subjects. Of these, four were bottom sets and three were Year 11. A fair selection? No. How many regular teachers have this kind of timetable? At the end of the afternoon, Year 11 biology just happened to be human reproduction. I didn't think it was fair on the pupils, let alone fair on me.
When I was asked to work in that school again I pointed out that my last timetable had been a bit unfair. I was told this was the nature of supply. Thank you, but no thanks, I said.
Supply teachers fit into timetables at short notice with classes which need to be kept stable. We are flexible and come with a range of good ideas, gleaned from wide experience in various schools. Treated well, we are teachers on whom a school can rely.
Jane Palmer is a supply teacher, formerly of East Sussex