Supply teaching: How to prepare for a placement

Written by: Helen Frostick | Published:
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In a new series supporting supply teachers, SecEd is offering advice across a range of issues. Here, Helen Frostick looks at how teachers can prepare for a short or long-term placement

The trend in recruitment is currently that there is an increasing shortage of teachers at both primary and secondary school levels.

As a result schools in both sectors are turning increasingly to supply agencies to address this shortage and to bridge the employment gap. In many instances, in spite of heavy agency fees, many short-term placements can result in substantive job offers if both parties are in agreement. This makes it doubly important that both schools and supply teachers work together to ensure a positive placement.

School budgets are tight and expectations are high, so supply teachers have to be able to perform in any given situation, even if teaching a year group unfamiliar to them. Feedback is scarce so for the vast majority of supply teachers the beginning of a placement is like starting a new job every day.

In order to get the most out of a placement there are many lines of enquiry to take before the placement commences, but there are differences between primary and secondary school placements.

Schools are very different. Some schools will be highly organised with everything supply teachers need when they arrive. However, some will give a supply teacher, for example, just a slip of paper with a few plans written on the back which are tricky to understand.

This article sets out lines of enquiry for supply teachers to take when preparing for a placement and also offers general advice on the legislation and policy that supply teachers should be familiar with.

Preparing for a placement

The first line of enquiry is as to whether there is a “Supply Teacher” file. Many schools will have such a file with key information set out. If there is no such file one of the first questions to ask, beyond the year group to be taught, is for the timetable of the day including start, finish and break times.

In primary schools, you will also need to know the lining up procedures and procedures for dismissal at the close of the day. Most schools will have different times for key stage 1 and 2.

Behaviour management is arguably the biggest challenge for supply teachers. Find out quickly the rewards and sanctions used at the school to promote a positive behaviour management strategy.

However, also find out the name of the person to whom you can refer pupils who display behaviour that compromises the learning of the class.

On a longer term placement, supply teachers may be asked to plan lessons. Before the placement starts find out if specific schemes of works are used and make sure that you are given access passwords from the school. Many schools use generic plans – find out so that you can be prepared well in advance.

Safeguarding is at the core of school practice and procedure. Establish who the safeguarding leads in the school are – in case of a need for referral of any disclosures – and the key policies and procedures around keeping children safe. All schools will robustly follow set procedures which are good to be familiar with.

As you will be teaching children with many diverse medical needs directly, find out the names of the pupils who require asthma inhalers, epi-pens, etc. What are the procedures for first aid in the school? Is there a medical room and is there a timetable of first-aiders to refer children with injuries to?

Before you begin your placement find out if there are vulnerable pupils in the class. Are there any trigger points that you can avoid, such as not seating certain pupils next to one another?

An important first line of enquiry for a secondary school placement is which subjects you will be required to teach and to which year groups. Will there be a pastoral role, such as being a form tutor which necessitates registration? If so what are the procedures?

You will need to have a realistic and honest view of the make-up of the class or classes you will be required to teach. What are the methods of behaviour management and who can you call upon in an emergency? Is there a particular method for sanctioning, such as community service/litter patrol?

Also, what are the detention procedures and processes? To have the names of the heads of departments for the subjects you will be required to teach will be useful too, as ports of call.

As part of your general health and safety checks, ask about the fire regulations and meeting points should there be a fire evacuation.

Legislation and policy

In order to prepare for any placement in schools, there is important legislation to familiarise yourself with beforehand.

Keeping Children Safe in Education Part 1 is an essential read for all supply teachers. The background to all safeguarding legislation lies in the Children’s Act of 1989 and it is an area that is regularly reviewed and updated. It pays to keep up-to-speed with these changes. Most recent amendments to policies include the areas of sexual exploitation and peer-to-peer abuse.

The school will have its own version of a child protection and safeguarding policy, which needs to be read alongside Keeping Children Safe in Education.

The Prevent strategy regarding anti-extremism and anti-terrorism again is an essential area to do homework on. If you have any suspicions in school regarding such activity the referral is made directly through the police.

School policies to read if you are able (depending on the length of your placement and the time you have to prepare) include behaviour and discipline including anti-bullying, marking, homework, assessment and the staff handbook in preparation for the placement.

In addition, familiarise yourself with the policies for the subjects you will be teaching in a secondary school.

The Equality Duty

The Equality Duty is a legal requirement for schools. The duty helps schools to focus on key issues of concern and addresses how to improve pupils’ outcomes. The history of the Equality Duty and schools is that previously public bodies were bound by three sets of duties to promote disability, race and gender equality. In April 2011 these were replaced by a single Public Sector Equality Duty.

The new duty relates to all aspects of a person’s identity known as “protected characteristics” – namely race, disability, sex, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maturity and gender reassignment. All schools (and teachers) should consider each aspect of the duty having due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination. This is in addition to the need to actively promote equality of opportunity.

The Equality Duty supports good education as it helps to identify priorities such as underperformance, poor progression and bullying. Schools are required to collate evidence such as submitting Racial Incidents Reporting Forms to their local authority which helps to collate evidence and what has been done as a result to combat it. Make sure that you report any such incidents to a senior manager.


It can be daunting starting a placement at a school but the guidance outlined above hopefully will act as a useful aide memoir. All school communities vary in terms of ethos and welcome but the best course of action if in any doubt about practice or procedure is to go to the named person for supply teacher induction.

Teachers are not taught to be supply teachers during their teacher training and it really is a different job from a regular class teacher. The key to a successful placement lies in communication on both sides.

  • Helen Frostick is a National Leader of Education and a headteacher in south London. She advises and writes regular for SecEd’s sister publication, Headteacher Update.

Further information

For safeguarding guidance and policy documents from the DfE, including Keeping Children Safe in Education, Working Together to Safeguard Children and What to do if You’re Worried a Child is Being Abused (all March 2015), visit

SecEd’s series of best practice articles for supply teachers will run until January. See below for links to specific previous articles and for all the articles published in this series so far – or to read future articles as they publish, visit


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