Each year a significant number of newly qualified teachers register with teaching agencies. Although for some supply teaching is a last resort, others are seeking experience or flexibility.
But the Government's proposals to introduce a statutory induction period from this September could increase training and continuity problems for supply teachers.
The recent consultation document drawn up by the Teacher Training Agency recommends an induction period of three terms for teachers qualifying after May 1999. It suggests that new teachers working on a permanent basis should be given the support of an induction tutor, a lighter workload and targets for their professional development throughout their first year. If they fail to meet the induction standards, they risk losing the eligibility to teach.
Newly qualified teachers would be able to gain experience in a variety of schools before accepting long-term supply work or permanent posts, by working as short-term supply teachers (taking posts of less than a term) for a year. After that year they would be required to complete a placement of at least a term in one school, so that induction could begin. It is unclear what options would be open to those who don't find the long-term placement.
Under the proposals, qualified teacher status requires three terms' induction experience gained within five years.
John Bangs, head of the education department at the National Union of Teachers, thinks this would present problems for new teachers going into supply work, particularly in the provision of continuity and support during an induction period which could be completed in three schools over five years. "It will be a nightmare for teachers who go from pillar to post," he says.
And teachers taking short-term supply work for their first year would not be entitled to an induction programme. Mr Bangs suggests the supply agency or LEA should provide for their induction. "Anyone responsible for NQTs should meet the government proposals,'' he believes.
This view is shared by John Dunn, marketing manager of Select Education, a major provider of supply teachers. He believes that continuity problems in monitoring and assessment of new supply teachers should be bridged by the supply agency. "Our staff could act as mentors. We also believe that any agency worth its salt should have the experience within its ranks to do the assessment itself," he said.
But Phil Marshall, director of Hays Educational Personnel, feels that it is already difficult to ensure that supply teachers are trained in new aspects of education such as the literacy and numeracy hours. To provide induction for newly qualified teachers would take up a vast amount of money and time.
John Pearson, assistant education officer of West Sussex LEA, advises new teachers to avoid supply work if possible. "It's not the best option because it's a time when you need experienced colleagues." He points out that some could spend their first year without any induction training at all.
But the benefits of supply teaching remain. Using the first year to experience a variety of schools before a permanent post may be increasingly important if failing the induction period means losing qualified teacher status.
The Department for Education and Employment recognises the important role that supply teaching can play for new teachers. When Ministers drew up the consultation document on induction published in February 1998, they considered preventing NQTs from doing short-term supply work, but the idea was abandoned. "Ministers agreed that supply teaching was a valuable route into the profession," says a DFEE spokesman.
The number of new teachers on supply lists may have influenced the ministers' decision. In the peak week of the autumn term in 1997, Capstan supply teaching agency alone filled 4,000 teacher days with 1,331 teachers; 18 per cent of them were newly qualified.