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Top Tips for Supply Teachers

Teaching is a steady profession – bearing in mind there will always be students, then as long as there are schools, there will be jobs available. As with a number of traditional jobs, teaching is becoming more and more flexible. Supply teachers epitomise this flexibility as they are often able to select a job based on whether it fits around their commitments and lifestyle rather than being tied to full-time, term-time with limited flexibility for time off outside the set school holidays.

As a supply teacher, you will be able to avoid some of the more laborious elements of teaching – there’s no need to worry about Ofsted or the political landscape within the school, and you don’t have to be worried that you will be expected to take on additional responsibilities.

  1. Preparation

Although sometimes you will be contacted at the last minute to cover a teacher with no notice, it always pays to turn up as early as you can in order to prepare yourself and learn as much about what is expected of you as possible.

One of the first questions you will need to ask about a supply role is whether there will be work set by the regular teacher or if you will be expected to come up with your own lesson plan. Good supply teachers always have a few ideas of how to fill time either way, whether that’s a puppet for primary children or a word game for secondary, having something prepared will avoid any loss of focus and keep your class engaged for as long as you need them to be. Websites such as and contain some useful resources aimed specifically at supply teachers.

It is also good practice to have a few lessons pre-prepared in case of emergencies. Even if you think work will be set, having something you can use if you need to can be incredibly helpful if the plans go astray. There are a number of teaching resource websites that provide free material.  Popular amongst the supply teachers we employ include:

It’s important to be aware of the fact that supply teachers are inspected when Ofsted are viewing a school. Be sure to do your research and be prepared always. If you make a great impression and contribute towards an ‘outstanding reputation’, your name will be remembered and no doubt you’ll increase your chances of getting repeat days there on supply. 

  1. Know your school

Some schools have rules about how many students can use the toilets at any given time, some have set rules to tackle bad behaviour including rewards and sanctions, and some have class-specific behaviour expectations. Finding out what these are and how you can use them to make your life easier should be a priority whenever you start in a new setting. Keeping to a familiar routine and maintaining standards will reassure your classes and establish you as someone who is in control and will you to maintain order and support their learning.

It can also help to ask about any particular students that might need extra support, any who have a teaching assistant assigned to them or those who might find a change of teacher unsettling so that you can be prepared. If you do have a teaching assistant in the classroom, ensure that you are making the most of their knowledge and experience. They will be able to help you as well as the students, and don’t forget that they may well be asked their opinion of you at the end of the day, so keeping them on side is a must.

  1. Meet and greet

One of the most important elements of working for yourself is to keep the future in mind – many people find work through word of mouth, so it’s really important to establish a network of contacts who might be able to recommend you for positions in the future.

To help you to achieve this, it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself to the other teachers you encounter throughout the day, not to mention other staff such as receptionists and caretakers. You never know when you might need their help with something, and a cheerful face is always welcome in any school. The one person you won’t be meeting is the teacher that you are covering for, but you can always leave them a note to let them know anything they might need to about the classes you have taken and welcome them back to work.

Make an effort to find out who books cover for supply teachers, even if you haven’t spoken to them before, introduce yourself and thank them for the opportunity. Let them know if you would like to go back, and ensure that they know about your availability. The senior management team might also be influential when it comes to finding supply staff, so speak to as many of them as you can and let them know if you are interested in any more supply work.

  1. Staff room politics

Simple things like asking if there is a kitty for tea and coffee, checking which mugs are up for grabs as opposed to someone’s favourite and making sure you aren’t hogging the communal fridge space with an elaborate lunch can make the difference between making a good first impression and putting your colleagues’ backs up.

  1. Positive attitude

Being positive and enthusiastic about your role will always make you popular amongst the other members of staff. Criticising the facilities or students can leave people with a negative sense of your contribution to their working day.

Although most people will understand that supply teaching is stressful, they will all be dealing with the pressures of their own jobs and will be unlikely to have time to listen to your problems, so try to stay positive about the school and your colleagues if you want to be considered for longer-term roles or regular supply work.

As a supply teacher you’ll be on standby glued to your phone from about 6.30am. It is likely that you’ll cover the area you live in (or surrounding area you live in). With this is in mind it means you are able to research the schools in your area so when you get the call in the early hours of the morning from the recruitment agency, you’ll have a brief understanding of the school, its location and status, before getting there on the day. 

  1. Take care of business

Whenever you complete an assignment as a self-employed individual, you will need to ensure that you have taken care of the business side of things. If an agency find you work, you might need to get a timesheet signed off before you leave or you might be asked to invoice directly, in which case it’s a good idea to ensure that you know who to send it to at the point you agree to do the work.

If you are working for an agency, then they will usually set your rates of pay. It is important to ensure that you establish your employment status when you speak to the agencies representatives.

Supply teachers covering roles which involve additional responsibilities and would normally attract a TLR payment, then this payment should be included pro-rata in your supply rate if you undertake these duties when you are covering the role.

Very occasionally, a supply teacher with specialist qualifications in Special Educational Needs who is hired to cover a role where these are required such as in a specialist school or if they are taking a class which is designated as one which caters to those with special needs. If a SEN qualification is mandatory for the role and if the demands of the position warrant it, then a SEN allowance can be added to a supply teacher’s daily or hourly rate.

As a supply teacher, you will need to keep detailed and accurate records of the days that you work, the rates you are paid and any salary slips you are issued with. This is true whatever kind of contract you have.

If you are considering a career as a supply teacher, then there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success significantly. It can also help to speak to other supply teachers in your area by joining subject or key stage-specific forums to get advice from those who have experience that might prove invaluable. A good Facebook account for you to network is

If you are reading this article, it is likely you are considering a career in supply teaching, or you are already a supply teacher.

  1. There are many reasons you may choose to get into supply teaching. Either;  

- You are ‘encouraged’ to work as a supply teacher in an attempt to prove to schools you are fit for the job allowing them security before they take you on permanently.
- You have made a lifestyle choice to maintain an optimum work/life balance
- You are semi-retired and looking to supplement your pension
- You are a qualified overseas teacher coming into the UK to develop your skills in a new country   

Whatever your reason for choosing supply work, you will need to engage with an umbrella company to handle your employment affairs and make sure you get paid accurately, on time every time. Your chosen Umbrella Company will make sure you oblige to all of your taxation and employment requirements.  

Are you thinking of becoming a supply teacher, or unsure how an umbrella company works? Speak to one of our experts on 01296 468 483 or email

You may also find the following pages helpful:

Why Orange Genie Education?

We employ and pay thousands of supply teachers and education support staff every year. Our employment portfolio stretches over 10 years in the umbrella industry making Orange Genie Education one of the most trusted umbrella brands. With this in mind, there’s no wonder we have long lasting relationships with hundreds of recruitment agencies all over the UK. Upon joining Orange Genie Education you become an employee of ours benefiting from:

Single employer for all assignments

  • One payment for all different agency assignments completed in a week

  • Simplified and efficient taxation from single tax code

  • Guaranteed pay for the work completed

  • Continuous employment rights

  • Maternity and Paternity pay

  • Sick pay

  • Access to a workplace pension

  • Statutory rights

  • Improved personal credit references and rating

  • Extraordinary employee benefits including 24/7 access to a GP, councelling, support, fitness resouces, and discounts & offers worth hundreds of pounds in day to day savings

Our aspiration is to improve the lives and wellbeing of supply teachers and education support staff.

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