Supply teaching: Going back full-time

Written by: Ben Solly | Published:
Image: iStock

As part of SecEd’s series on supply teaching, school leader Ben Solly offers practical advice for supply teachers thinking about returning to the chalkface as a full-time teacher

Supply teachers provide the education sector with a valuable service and are an essential resource at a time of severe teacher shortages within a profession that is plagued with retention and recruitment problems.

Sadly, for many professionals who work in the supply teaching sector of the education industry, they are often faced with questionable attitudes, inaccurate perceptions and outdated opinions on what it means to be a supply teacher. Sadder still is the fact that these attitudes, perceptions and opinions frequently emanate from teachers employed in permanent positions in schools.

Teachers work in the supply sector for a variety of reasons. Many individuals choose to and enjoy the benefits of not being tied down to a particular school, avoiding many of the administrative and time-consuming burdens that accompany permanent employment as a teacher. Indeed, making this conscious decision to work as a supply teacher can bring with it a great deal excitement, a huge variety of experiences and the opportunity to work in many different schools.

From supply to full-time

For a variety of reasons, however, supply teachers will sometimes make the decision to return to teaching full-time. It might be that after trying supply work, they crave the opportunity to return to working in a single organisation, to become once again part of a school community or perhaps to regain the security and consistency of permanent employment.

Making the step from supply to permanent employment can be challenging and so I have tried to offer here some practical advice, along with some hints and tips on how to make this transition successfully.

Find the right school

If you are seeking the opportunity to join a school on a permanent basis, you have to make sure it is the right one for you. Your experiences as a supply teacher will have taught you some stark lessons on the huge differences that exist in how schools operate; it is important you use this as a way of finding your next permanent role.

Be proactive

Use your placements to your advantage. You might be in a position where you are completing a medium-term contract for a term or two for an absent member of staff. If you are enjoying the placement and your lessons are successful then use this opportunity to put yourself in the driving seat if a permanent vacancy arises.

Be proactive and make your intentions clear to your line manager, head of department or even the headteacher. If the school does need to recruit and you have demonstrated that you are a good teacher then you could save them the need to spend money on a recruitment process. My advice would be to make yourself indispensable to them – contribute to department planning, attend meetings and lead some extra-curricular activities.

Be flexible – could you retrain?

The more variety you can offer a school, the better. If you can teach several subjects then you become a more attractive proposition for a school. The nature of supply teaching means that you will have, at some point, taught subjects that are different to the one(s) in which you qualified. Use this to your advantage and ensure you make this flexibility obvious in your application form.

We have a well-documented recruitment crisis in certain subjects in the secondary education sector and the financial incentives to teach maths, science, languages and geography are significant. If you are finding it challenging to find permanent employment then why not consider retraining in a shortage subject?

Have a credible back-story

When you apply for a teaching vacancy in a school, red flags will be raised in your employment history if it is littered with short-term supply contracts. A headteacher will ask themselves “why hasn’t this individual ever worked for longer than a year in a school?” or “why is this person working as a supply teacher; if they were any good then surely they would be in permanent employment already?”.

Whether you like it or not, negative perceptions will exist and you will have to counter these by providing a credible back story within your letter of application that outlines your context clearly.

However, these things are often best explained in person so take the opportunity to meet with the head of department or a member of the senior leadership team in advance of your application so that you can make a good first impression and clarify your situation and why you are attracted to the vacancy.

Pick your references carefully

From the various supply placements you will have accrued, there will be a number of people who can provide you with a reference. Pick these individuals carefully and ensure they can provide details of why you would be a strong candidate for this permanent role.

As a professional courtesy always ask them in advance if they are prepared to act as a referee for you and if you have a good relationship with them you could ask them to read through a draft of your letter of application.

Stay on your toes, professionally

The most important thing for you to be able to demonstrate at interview is that you are an effective teacher. It sounds obvious but it is the most critical aspect of a recruitment process. Anyone can blag an interview if they are well practised and have the “gift of the gab”, but this doesn’t mean they are a good teacher.

Teaching a lesson during an interview day is always challenging because it is an artificial situation, you don’t know the students and they don’t know you. However, this is where you can use your supply experiences to your advantage. You will be used to turning up in an unfamiliar environment, not knowing the students and delivering a lesson in unpredictable circumstances.

Equally though, while working on supply contracts it can be very easy to slip into bad habits. When you don’t have ownership of a class or a classroom your planning can be compromised and it is quite normal for you to not be able to teach as effectively as you are capable of because of the challenging circumstances you face.

Additionally, as a supply teacher you might not have had the professional development opportunities that are afforded to teachers in permanent roles. Therefore, when the right vacancy in the right school presents itself, you need to be in a position to do yourself justice if you are called for an interview.

You will need to have kept up with the latest research in teaching and learning so it is important to continue to read books, blogs and articles on pedagogy; you will be expected to demonstrate high levels of skill and classroom craft during your observation but you may also be asked during the formal interview about your CPD.

  • Ben Solly is principal of Uppingham Community College in Rutland.

Supply Teaching Series

SecEd’s series of best practice articles for supply teachers ran from November 2017 to January 2018. See below for links to specific previous articles and for a link to a free pdf download featuring all 14 articles:

All articles in this series are available as a free pdf at


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