Supply teaching: Time for a different approach?

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

SecEd’s supply teaching series continues. This week, we meet the exasperated supply teacher who set up her own ‘ethical’ supply agency and ask her for some ‘top tips’ as well

As schools across the country battle with teacher recruitment and retention, more and more heads are turning to supply teachers to fill the gap. Figures released earlier this year showed that school spending on supply teacher agencies jumped by a fifth between 2012 and 2016.

But many supply teachers are growing increasingly disillusioned with their pay and conditions. One of them, Leicester-based Samina Randall, became so exasperated that she decided to set up her own “ethical” online supply agency. She now has more than 100 supply teachers (primary and secondary) and teaching assistants on her books and received 1,140 bookings during her first academic year.

Ms Randall, who has been a primary teacher for 20 years, became a supply teacher in 2014 to achieve a better work/life balance. She signed up with two agencies and was puzzled to find that one paid her £125 per day and the other £130 per day (parity pay is £168).

“It took me a while to twig that the £130 included employer’s national insurance and payroll costs via an umbrella company, so in comparative terms I was actually getting £112 a day,” she said.

As the months went by she discovered other disparities and annoyances. She was encouraged to sign up to a “guaranteed work” scheme, guaranteeing her five days’ work a week, but found that this meant she was paid less.

“I had two occasions when they didn’t get me work and I had to chase them,” said Ms Randall. “But they never paid me those two days.

“No-one tells you any of this when you start. You don’t see it until you get your payslip – and the payslips are so complicated to understand. If I worked every single day as a supply teacher it would equate to £22,000 a year, whereas if I worked directly for the school it would be £33,000. So you are talking about a considerable reduction in your salary for doing the same work.”

She also learned that some supply agencies move supply teachers once they have worked at the same school for 11 weeks.

“The Agency Workers Regulations stipulate that agency workers are entitled to parity pay after 12 weeks of working in the same establishment,” she explained.

“If they go over the 12 weeks they then have to pay you £168-a-day instead of £120 or £130.”

Not only that, if a school had offered her a permanent job the supply agency would charge the school 20 per cent of her annual salary as a “transfer fee”.

“It was a steep learning curve,” said Ms Randall. “Sometimes the traditional agencies try and make you feel professionally guilty, especially if you ask for a pay rise. When a school in a town 45 minutes away asked if I could work for another week I asked the agency to increase my daily rate by an extra £8 to compensate for my travel and extra childcare costs. I got a really short response saying: ‘If you want more money we’ll have to charge the school.’ But now I’m running my own agency I know that’s not true.”

Most headteachers she spoke to were unaware what supply teachers were being paid: “They are paying a fair rate to the agency – typically £200 or £230 a day – so there’s no reason for them to think that supply teachers aren’t getting a fair rate,” she said.

When she decided to launch her own agency, the headteacher of the school where she was working at the time immediately expressed her support.

“It all started with a caring headteacher,” said Ms Randall, who is now managing director of Transpose Supply and still works as a supply teacher herself. “We wanted something that would empower schools and empower teachers and link the two together. Because it’s an online agency we’re able to reduce our costs, keep our margins low and pass the money on to our teachers.”

If a school offers a supply teacher a permanent job, her agency charges a £500 transfer fee (as opposed to about £7,000). She also asks schools to provide CPD opportunities for supply teachers on assignments of a term or more and for those doing job shares.

Our teachers earn within the main pay scale everyday,” said Ms Randall. “It means they are happier and better motivated teachers as a result – and that’s good for the school and good for the pupils. It addresses the problem of recruitment and retention when often supply teachers get fed up with the pay and find alternative jobs, usually not in education.”

Samina Randall’s top tips for supply teachers...

Research: Make sure you know what type of contract you have with the supply agency and what your daily rate will be. Be aware of the Agency Workers Regulations and your employment rights. Before you start work, look at the school website. Check the name of the headteacher/principal, head of department and the person to report to on arrival.

Arrive early: Don’t start in a rush. Leave yourself time to introduce yourself, ask any questions and prepare for the class.

Follow lesson plans: If a teacher has gone to the trouble of preparing plans, do your best to follow them. This helps to give continuity for the pupils. If you are not able to do this, leave a note with a brief explanation.

Be prepared: Take some back-up resources, just in case. I carry paper copies of poems and maths problems and also keep a library of my favourite resources on a cloud store for easy access. Have some good starters to help settle the class and get to know them. For example, call the register and get them to answer with their favourite food, book, animal, game or singer.

Leave your mark: A school wants to show consistency in the way work is marked so make sure you adhere to the marking policy.

Know your class: Ask about any specific needs of pupils and groups, such as health issues, behaviour, SEN, EAL and G&T. Get to know the pupils – you are likely to see them again as supply teachers are often asked back.

Access codes: Check you have all the access codes you need: log-in details for classroom computers, websites, door codes and the photocopier. Keep these codes securely. For regular schools, I use an encrypted password store on my phone.

Feedback: Give constructive feedback about your experience in the school. If you like the way something is done, tell them. If you think there are things that may help, politely share this too. Also, give your agency feedback so they can improve the service they provide to you and the school.

Team player: You may only be there briefly but you need to follow rules and procedures as if you were a permanent member of the team. Deal with any incidents and situations on this basis and don’t dismiss any safeguarding concerns because you are passing through.

Positive mental attitude: Be assertive and positive with other staff members and present a professional and friendly face. Always greet people on arrival and say goodbye when you leave.

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education journalist.

Further information

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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