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How to choose the right supply agency

So you’ve decided to become a supply teacher, and now you’re faced with the task of choosing a supply agency. There are hundreds of agencies out there, so how do you choose the one that will work best for you?

You might think that registering with lots of agencies will improve your chances of securing work. It won’t. In fact, it could hinder your chances. Keeping a long list of agencies up-to-date with your availability is tiresome, and if you continually turn work down due to commitments with other agencies, you may find the better offers start to dry up. Certainly when you are starting out as a supply teacher it is recommended that you choose only a couple of agencies and stick with those. You can always switch later. Many supply teachers end up choosing to become exclusive with one particular agency after a while, as they develop a rapport and trust in one agency over another.

But how do you whittle the list of agencies down to just two or three? Here are some suggestions:

Personal recommendations

Recommendations from teachers you know and trust can be a wonderful way to find an agency that suits you but always remember that what suits one person is not necessarily going to suit the next. Agencies are sometimes (sadly) only as good as their teams, so look for an agency with lots of experience, and a steady workforce. Agency culture can differ dramatically too – so make sure you pick the agencies you feel comfortable with.

School recommendations

Most teachers have a list of schools they’d be happy to work at, or even of the types of schools they would like to work at. Schools tend to work with just one or two supply agencies, so ask the schools you like who they work with, then register with those agencies. If you’re keen on moving to a permanent role in those schools, by teaching there on supply you’ve already got a foot in the door. Supply teaching at the schools you’re interested in is also a useful way to decide whether that school’s culture really does suit you after all.

Consider your transport options

If you have limited means of transport, find out who the agencies are who service the schools you’ll find it easy to get to quickly. Often schools won’t know they need a supply teacher until 8am, there’s no sense in making life hard for yourself in the mornings by trying to get to an inaccessible location quickly when you could have work just down the road!

Look for indicators of quality

There are hundreds of supply teaching agencies around, and new agencies seem to pop up (and close down) on a daily basis. When it’s your livelihood at stake, you need to know you can trust your agency to find you the level of work you want in the types of schools and locations that you want to work in – not simply to push you into whatever vacancies they have.

What are some of the indicators of quality? Ask about things like:

  • How long has the agency been around?
  • What types of schools do they have contracts with? Do the positions they regularly fill suit your skill set?
  • Do they have borough-wide supply contracts – this tends to indicate a great deal of choice for the supply teachers
  • Ask how many teachers they typically place each day, and on what types of arrangements.
  • See whether the agency offers guaranteed supply contracts. Even if you don’t want a GPS contract, only agencies confident in the level of work they have will offer them.
  • Who is staffing the agency? Is it ex-educators who know the right questions to ask, or sales people seeking to make a quick buck?
  • Also check the responsiveness of the agency staff. Do they listen when you speak? Do they get back to you when they said they would? If they are not courteous and attentive to you now, it’s likely they won’t ever be!

Ask yourself whether you like and trust the agency

If the agency staff don’t take the time to get to know you, your CV, experience and interests, they won’t be able to reliably place you in jobs you’ll love. Take the time to chat with agency staff. If they are genuinely interested in you, and take the time to build rapport, rather than just pigeonhole you into a vacancy, chances are they’ll take a personal interest in getting you the work you want.

Will the agency activity market your skills?

Some agencies wait for the phone to ring. Others recognise the skills you have will be valued by schools, and actively promote them. Look for agencies that will package up your skills, interests and passions and package up exciting workshops to schools based on these – it’s a fulfilling and rewarding way to spend a supply day!

Ask about continued professional development opportunities

In 2016 the NASUWT found that 65% of supply teachers reported being denied professional development opportunities. Reputable agencies recognise that CPD for supply teachers is essential for both the career development of teachers and the benefit of students and classroom environments. Don’t be afraid to ask about the specifics of the CPD opportunities an agency offers.

Look for accredited agencies

Ensure your agency is an accredited Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) member, and thus committed to raising recruitment standards.

Ask for testimonials (but maintain a healthy skepticism)

In this age of online reviews, we are all savvy enough to know that reviews and testimonials can be fake – both positive and negative. Signs of authenticity include use of full names, use of school names. Be wary of anonymous reviews and testimonials. Remember that people are 10 times more likely to complain than to praise even if they are at fault, but if you see a negative review that concerns you make sure you raise it with the agency before you sign. Speak to other supply teachers at the schools you visit, as well as the people responsible for employing supply teachers, and canvas their opinions of agencies.