Supplies get in on the act
Three years ago, Mary Wojtowicz had no access to training. As a supply teacher, the closest she got to it was covering the class of a colleague who was off on a course.
"For supply teachers there was nothing," she says. "We could have paid to go to a course, but that was expensive and it often meant missing a day's work. Yet we needed access to continuing professional development as much as other teachers."
Her local authority, Perth and Kinross, was aware of the need to develop and retain good supply teachers, as well as to attract non-working teachers back to the profession. In 2003 it launched the Returner and Supply Teachers Network. Mrs Wojtowicz signed up almost immediately and, shortly after, was elected chair, a post she still holds.
Two years on, the network has become a focal point for supply staff who seek routine training. It aims to offer monthly sessions, usually twilight rather than daytime, to make it as easy as possible to attend, covering all aspects of the job. Perth pays the costs and has linked up with Dundee University to provide the courses.
"I have become more of a facilitator than an organiser," explains Jean Cessford, a former headteacher now in charge of training for the authority.
"Rather than me deciding what training sessions to set up, the network itself plans what it wants and Mrs Wojtowicz helps organise them."
Leaving the decision-making to the supply teachers in the network was a calculated move by the authority to ensure teachers had ownership of the process. The theory was that greater ownership would lead to greater support, and it seems to have worked.
The annual training agenda is structured around two or three themes. This year, the themes have been drama, music, science and assessment for learning.
Workshops are also arranged to bring them up to date on legislation and changes to practice. Recently, these have included an introduction to the 5-14 programme, methods of teaching and learning, planning and assessment 1 and 2, assessment techniques, evaluation, behaviour management 1 and 2, and working with other professionals.
Further workshops have been run for returning teachers who have gone through the initial introductory training.
Miss Cessford is hoping that contacts made at the CPD conference in Edinburgh last month will allow her to establish links with other local authorities to raise adequate numbers to make more of these workshops worthwhile.
"I think I should be able to run one over two or three days in June, when supply is in less demand," she says. "I have about six teachers interested and I may be able to attract a further six from other authorities."
The network is well supported by primary supply teachers and is even open to permanent staff who are interested. But the authority is still finding attracting secondary teachers more onerous.
"My biggest problem is providing support for someone with a subject specific need," says Miss Cessford. "It is crucial we get the training right."
Delegates listening to her presentation at the CPD conference were impressed, recognising the network is a service that has to be free and timed correctly.
"You wouldn't want to put in place any obstacles to supply or returning teachers," said one delegate. "Things are so desperate, the main criteria for getting on a supply list is a pulse."
While Perth and Kinross is in the same position as most Scottish authorities in having problems attracting and retaining good supply staff, it has several teachers who are happy to stay on the list rather than look for permanent jobs. Mrs Wojtowicz is one.
"I like working part-time and being flexible. And, with the network, I feel supported and valued," she says.