Supply teaching: Your rights as a supply teacher

Written by: Matt Bromley | Published:
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I find it hard to get reference letters from school head as I am a day to day supply teacher. What ...

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SecEd’s supply teaching series continues. Matt Bromley offers his advice on your rights, entitlements and responsibilities as a supply teacher

There’s no doubting the fact that being a supply teacher can be tough. You never know what tomorrow will bring and, as an unfamiliar face at the front of class, personification of the fact the regular teacher is absent, you may sometimes find it difficult to establish rapport with students and may struggle to control their behaviour by means of positive reinforcement rather than hard sanctions.

However, for all its challenges, supply teaching can also be hugely rewarding. After all, variety – as they say – is the spice of life and as a supply teacher you are afforded the privilege of working in a range of different schools and with a variety of staff and students.

But, for all its uncertainties, there are some constants you can rely on as a supply teacher. Your rights, for example, are written in stone and you must ensure that, no matter where you’re posted and for how long, you are supported both by your agency and by the school in which you’re teaching to do the best you can do.

Employment rights

From the very first day, your school (legally known as “the hirer”) must provide you with equal access to collective facilities and amenities. In other words, you are entitled to access those facilities which are provided for permanent members of staff.

This might include access to physical facilities such as the canteen and the staffroom, as well as access to transport facilities and car parking. But it might also include access to a permanent job as and when this is advertised internally or externally.

After 12 weeks in a school, your entitlement increases. At this stage, for example, your supply agency is responsible for providing you with the same basic pay and conditions you would have received if you had been employed directly by the school. This includes the same basic pay rate (in other words, the same rate paid to teachers in similar roles in the same school), the same hours of work, rest breaks, lunch breaks, etc, and the same holiday entitlement (included in the daily pay rate payable by schools which are covered by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document – STPCD). This also includes paid time off for ante-natal appointments, and alternative work should a risk assessment require this.

What’s more, after 12 weeks in the same role and with the same “hirer”, that school has responsibilities towards you under health and safety legislation.

The 12-week period is calculated from the first day of your placement with a school. Crucially, you do not have to work full-time in order for the week to count towards the qualifying period. What’s more, any school closures – such as school holidays – are not counted when calculating the 12-week period. A week is counted from Monday to Sunday.

If you have a break of more than six weeks, however, you will need to restart the clock and accrue another 12 weeks of qualifying service. Any school closures are not counted when calculating the six-week break.

However, if you are unable to work because of sickness or injury then the qualifying period is paused rather than restarted and will resume when you return to work. The time you take off for sickness or injury will not count towards the 12-week qualifying period or towards the six-week break.

If you are on maternity leave then any leave taken for maternity reasons for up to 26 weeks after childbirth will count towards your qualifying period for equal treatment. If your contract with the school ends during your maternity leave, you will stop accruing qualifying service.

If you’re on paternity leave then any paternity leave counts towards your qualifying period for equal treatment. If your contract with the school ends during your paternity leave, you will stop accruing qualifying service.

Pay and conditions

What else do you need to know about your rights as a supply teacher?

First, if you crossed the threshold before you started working as a supply, you will not automatically receive payment from the upper pay scale.

Rather, schools have the discretion to place newly appointed teachers on the main or upper pay scale range. You will, therefore, need to negotiate an appropriate salary with the school.

Ideally, the school’s pay policy should articulate how they will calculate the pay of a newly appointed teacher and the same method should be used for supply teachers when they become entitled to equal treatment after 12 weeks.

Once you qualify for equal treatment, you are not entitled to back pay for the qualifying period.

If you are pregnant, once you have qualified for equal treatment, your school must offer you paid time off to attend antenatal appointments. Your school must also complete a full risk assessment as soon as you notify them, and they must offer you an alternative role if this is deemed necessary. If no suitable alternative role is available you are entitled to be suspended on full pay.

However, you should note that supply teachers are not entitled to maternity or paternity pay while employed by an agency.

Neither are supply teachers able to contribute to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme while employed by an agency.

Once you have qualified for equal treatment you are, however, entitled to holiday pay. This may be paid to you at the end of your contract if you have been unable to take your entitlement to holiday during your placement.

Your responsibilities

With rights come responsibilities, of course, and supply teachers who are paid by the terms set out in the STPCD – which covers teachers working in local authority-controlled and most voluntary-aided and faith schools, as well as many academies – must also assume the contractual duties that are attached.

In other words, because the STPCD does not differentiate between supply teachers and permanent teachers, schools can reasonably expect that, if a supply teacher is being paid under the STPCD, they will carry out all of the duties of a teacher.

For example, the STPCD sets out a series of teachers’ duties in addition to their key duties in the classroom. These additional duties include communicating with parents and carers, and contributing to the development, evaluation and implementation of a school’s policy, practices and procedures.

These additional duties might also require a supply teacher to work outside the timetabled day. With the exception of planning, preparation and assessment time (PPA), all of the duties directed by the school will fall within the 1,265 hours’ directed time budget, which will be spread over 195 days within the school year.

If a supply teacher is not employed in accordance with the STPCD, then their working hours and duties should be set out in the terms of their contract and, in such circumstances, it pays to be diligent in reading the small print!

Many private schools and some academies, for example, do not employ teachers in accordance with the STPCD and these schools set out in their contract of employment the duties which they expect teachers, including supply teachers, to perform.

It is wise to exercise caution before agreeing to accept a supply contract from schools which vary the number of hours worked per day. In some of these circumstances, teachers may only be paid for actual lessons taught, taking no account of the other duties undertaken by the teacher and thereby significantly reducing their pay.

Health and safety

Finally, schools are expected to give the same level of attention to the health and safety of supply teachers as they do to permanent members of staff.

Schools must take specific steps to ensure that supply teachers are adequately prepared for work at the school.

Schools are required by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) to ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, the health and safety of all employees and non-employees – including supply teachers – in their workplace. This includes assessing risks to health and safety and taking steps to reduce or eliminate these risks.

As the school’s duty covers non-employees as well as employees, the fact that a supply teacher is employed by an agency does not remove the school’s duty to ensure their health and safety. Rather, agency supply staff must be afforded the same protection as teachers permanently employed by the school.

And this works both ways, of course: supply teachers are also required by the HASAWA to ensure the health and safety of all other employees and non-employees they work with.

  • Matt Bromley is an education journalist and author with more than 18 years’ experience in teaching and leadership. He is the author of books for teachers including Making Key Stage 3 Count and Teach. His latest book, The New Teacher Survival Kit, is available in paperback and various ebook formats. Visit or follow @mj_bromley. To read Matt’s previous articles in SecEd, visit

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

I find it hard to get reference letters from school head as I am a day to day supply teacher. What is your suggestion for getting a reference letter for other employments?
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