I’ve been employed in the Education sector for about 9 years now. I was quite lucky to begin with because as I began my studies to change my career, my boys’ school offered me a part-time job as a learning support assistant which enabled me to complete my required hours for the course in a paid capacity, rather than doing them on a voluntary basis. I qualified 2 years after this, and continued to work there working in an assortment of roles. At the time, I felt that I hadn’t really got a defined position there, yet looking back, it was the best thing for me. I had training at a midlands university to teach reading interventions using IT. I developed skills and attended courses (cpd), giving me specific techniques and knowledge when caring for children with special needs. I also worked with groups of children that were new arrivals to the school. I developed the necessary know-how, with support and training from the deputy head, so that I could deliver effective activities and tasks for expanding their English language skills.
About a year after this, the school had to take into account their budget expenditure and my temporary contract ended. I was the last one in, so therefore, I had to be the first one out, or so they said. I was pretty upset about it, because I had settled there and made some great friends amongst the staff, and I knew that I would miss the children I had helped and worked with. I was grateful though, for the opportunities they’d given me.
I began working for a supply agency shortly after this, and it’s the best decision I ever made. For me, working as a supply teaching assistant, gives me large amounts of flexibility and variety. But some staff, who I meet on my daily travels, inform me that they couldn’t possibly go to a different school every day and meet new people.
There are pros and cons to supply work, and I feel qualified to list them, from a teaching assistant’s perspective. A teacher’s ideas will be different, because they have more responsibilities. Nevertheless, I have a lot of friends who are teachers who tell me how much more they enjoy supply work.
Supply work is flexible. You can choose to make yourself available for weeks or terms at a time, or like myself, offer to work for schools on a daily basis.
Generally, the agency will message you on the Friday before the following week and ask for your availability. This is where you become a free spirit. You can offer to work 3 days one week, a full week the next, one day the next week, and so on….
If you want to take a holiday, you can. You just inform the agency a week before.
Your daily pay rate can be higher than a TA employed in a school; caution is needed with this though. You won’t be paid for holidays, so it tends to balance out with a school’s going rate.
You can work in a different year group each day. One week I worked on a Monday in the nursery and on the Tuesday I was taking care of a child with autism. I worked the Wednesday in year 5 with a boy with learning difficulties and the Thursday with year 6. Friday morning I was doing reading interventions with year 1 pupils. It was a great week. I never get bored.
I meet new people every day. There was only one school that I didn’t particularly like, which is pretty good going. The kids were great but the staff were unwelcoming and clicky. But the great thing about supply work is that you don’t have to go back. One day was enough. Every other school has been great. I have met lots of new friends, which includes the staff that work in the schools I visit, and friends that work for the same agency as myself.
If you work as a TA in a classroom permanently, you are generally given more of a work load. Marking, organising, meetings to attend etc. With supply there is none of that. After the one or two days you may not be asked to go back there again, so there is no need for the staff to give you extra work.
You get to meets lots and lots of children, instead of just being in one class throughout the year. I really enjoy going back to a school after 3 or 4 weeks and finding out what the children have been doing with their school work or any trips they have been on.
If you are particularly fortunate, a school may take you on as a permanent member of staff. This is great because you get to really know the school, the children and the staff before you are taken on, so eliminating the prospect of joining a school that you have no knowledge about. Before I worked as a supply, I was offered a temporary contract at a primary school for 6 months. It was a school I knew nothing about, and once I’d started I realised I’d made a big mistake. I really didn’t like it at all. Supply work gives you the opportunity to get to know a school properly.
Some agencies, like mine, pay your wages through an umbrella company. This benefits them because they can employ another company to pay their staff, but there are hidden costs that the company takes out of your wages. You have to be careful. It’s very important to try and choose an agency that do their own payroll and use Paye.
You’ll have quiet times with not much work at the beginning of the Autumn term. It usually picks up after 3 weeks.
You’ll get no holiday money, so that means you will have 13 to 15 weeks out of the year with no pay. It’s good to plan for these times and save a little. However, I have heard that some agencies do save some of your pay per week and give it to you at holiday times.
Sometimes it will be necessary to travel further than you intend. Even though local work is more economical, if you refuse longer distance assignments on a regular basis, you will ultimately lose out. The agency can’t always give you exactly what you want.
You may feel like a spare part in the staff room and no one will speak to you. I’ve come to a conclusion about this. The only time the permanent staff get to meet their friends and have a chat is at break times, and why wouldn’t they? It’s a catch up for them. I don’t think it’s at all personal if you are ignored. They just don’t have time to talk to their fellow colleagues in the normal working day. Who wants to talk to a stranger when you have your friends around? This is very rare though! Actually, I retract that comment. I am the sort of person that will open up a conversation with a member of staff I’ve never met before, mainly because I’m a friendly person and not an ignorant so and so! This however must not concern you and it’s not personal. I take a magazine and read that if the staff room is full of ignoramuses. It doesn’t bother me anymore.
And that’s about it. There isn’t much I can honestly say that is negative about supply work. If you fancy a change, more freedom and flexibility and with varied and interesting days, give it a try. You will also have the added bonus of gaining large amounts of experience with all primary aged children, and it will set you in good stead if you do decide to apply for a permanent position in the future. Your experience will be invaluable for prospective employers. I highly recommend it.
Finally, supply work has given me enough confidence to work for myself. I would have never been able to say this 4 years ago, but I am in the process of setting up my own private tutoring business. So you see, anything is possible.