Supply and demand will soon meet instantly in Fife, where the council is launching a new database with text alerts for teacher cover.
The council has 900 supply teachers on its books and formed its own pool 23 years ago. Now it is setting up a database that headteachers can search by sector, subject and area. Once they have made their choice, the system will automatically send an e-mail and can also text the teacher.
Teachers who are required the same day can be traced and reply within minutes.
The system has been devised by staff on Fife Direct, the council's website, where a number of innovative services for schools and parents are being pioneered by Fiona Armstrong, the new media manager. Text alerts to parents about school closures in the winter proved so popular last year that the council is now turning this into a year-round service and extending it to all kinds of unexpected closures. Despite a mild winter, almost 1,600 parents registered.
"The immediacy of the text alert was one of its great values," Ms Armstrong said. "We are hoping to have the supply database up and running in October or November, and will pilot it in all 145 primary schools. We hope then to roll it out to the 19 secondary schools in 2005.
"Heads and administrators face immense problems finding out when supply teachers are available. So we are looking at ways we can speed it up. One of the issues at the moment is if heads start at the top of the list, they have to work their way down through it, till they find someone who is available.
"What we are doing is building an application where they can search the online database. Then we are taking it a stage further so they contact a teacher by e-mail or text message, saying 'we have a supply position in our school on these dates if you are interested'.
"If a supply teacher accepts, then those dates will be blocked out under the teacher's name, so another head doesn't bother to contact him.
Similarly, if a registered supply teacher is going on holiday, he or she can block out those dates on the database themselves."
Ken McGinley, headteacher of Dunfermline High, said: "Staff can spend hours on the phone, calling round to find available cover. We would be keen to try any new system which would make it quicker and easier to identify those available to provide supply in our classrooms."
Truancy alerts to parents are being considered, but contrary to press reports they are not yet in use in Fife. "It's very, very early days for that," Ms Armstrong said.
Other services being investigated are text alerts and e-mails on important information or school events coming up. These could be triggered and sent out by individual schools.
Residents in the area will also be able to go into Fife Direct and register for services they want from the council, whether it's school closure text alerts or job details by e-mail.