How to get (and keep) a supply job

Candidates often join with an agency because the work can fit around other commitments and offers flexibility you just don’t find in a permanent job. It also gives staff an opportunity to try out a range of different schools before deciding where their niche is. But once you find a school you love, how do you ensure that they won’t want to lose you? Here are some top tips to maximise your chances of being offered a long-term or permanent role in your favourite supply school.


First impressions last

First impressions are crucial – they give the school in question an instant picture of you that will form part of their decision-making process when it comes to offering you more work. It’s not hard to create a good first impression – all you have to do is:


  • Be on time! Or early if possible. Students are expected to be on time for school, so it goes without saying that the staff should be setting a good example and managers will not be impressed if you are late, no matter how good your excuse.

    SMILE! It’s easy and helps to create a positive first impression. Credit Flickr cc

    SMILE. I can’t stress this enough – you want people to think of you as a can-do person, who is positive, and just what they are looking for. You won’t create this impression if you turn up looking miserable or like you don’t want to be there. Even if you just had a fight with your other half, or are feeling awful, project nothing but positivity when you arrive at school.

  • Be smart/appropriately dressed. This might sound obvious – but I regularly receive calls from schools who complain that their supply staff have shown up in jeans or trainers, or their PE staff don’t have a PE kit with them. Think about the dress code of the school, and if you need advice on what to wear, ask your agency – if you turn up and are immediately sent home for wearing inappropriate attire it’s not likely you are going to get a second chance to make that first impression.
  • Be polite. Seriously – I have had schools call me to complain that at the end of the day, a member of supply staff has barged into their office, interrupting a meeting to present a timesheet to be signed. Even if you find the school to be casual and friendly, this does NOT give you permission to act in a way which could be perceived as rude. This is the fast-track to being blacklisted at your favourite school!
  • Be prepared. Even if you don’t know the school or what classes you will be working with, always carry some ideas around with you which could be adapted for different lessons/students. In this way, if you are thrown a curve-ball and asked to take over for a bit, you’ll be prepared to take the bull by the horns – not be left looking like a rabbit in the headlights! Schools will be impressed that you were able to take this glitch to your day in your stride and rise to the challenge
  • Don’t consider tasks to be “below you” – there is no faster way to losing a job at a school than by refusing to do the work you’ve been asked to do. Remember that supply staff are there to ease the burden of an under-staffed day. Schools will do their best to utilise you in a way which utilises your skills and qualifications, but they may sometimes ask you to do more menial tasks, too.

    Try to avoid sick days, Credit Flickr cc

    Don’t refuse to photocopy, or invigilate an exam, or stand out in the cold on duty during break time “because it’s not what you’re paid to do” or words to that effect. I have actually had a teacher walk out half way through the day just because he was asked to do some photocopying during a free period. Trust me, that doesn’t create a positive, lasting impression!

  • Don’t take time off early on – sometimes this is unavoidable. If you are suffering from a major illness and there is literally no way you can make it to school then it’s understandable that you will have to take time off. But if you have woken up with a headache, tummy-ache, bit of a sore throat or just didn’t sleep too well, then you MUST battle your way to work. When you are in a new job, your employer has no track-record with you so they don’t know if you are usually one of those people who hardly ever takes a day off – they will just see that it’s your first or second week, and already you are calling in sick. They will assume this is likely to continue and they won’t be impressed. Bear in mind that if you are on supply, disruption has already been caused to your classes, and schools won’t like having to cover their cover staff!

Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey! Credit Flickr cc

Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey!

Once you’ve made a good first impression, here are some tips for making it last, and for ensuring that you are the one the school comes to once they decide to make a permanent appointment:

  1. Don’t get complacent – once you’ve made a good impression for the first few days, see it as a personal challenge to continue with it. Treat every day at work as if it is your first and you can’t go too far wrong. See every point on the list above!
  2. Don’t get greedy“I’ve been asked to do more hours”, “I’ve been here a few weeks now”, “I’ve been doing planning, marking and meetings.” These are all reasons I’ve been given as to why a staff member deserves a pay rise. While it is our job as your agency to negotiate the best rates possible for you, when we over-step the mark and start asking for higher pay without a very good reason, schools do not like it. Almost all of the things you are likely to be asked to do would fall under the remit of any standard permanent contract, so don’t push for more money just because you have to attend a meeting after school once a week, or do the odd parents evening. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth potentially damaging your reputation with the school for an extra few pounds in your pay packet. Of course, there are circumstances when it’s perfectly reasonable to request additional pay – for example if you have been asked to give up your lunch break without being given any other free time in lieu. Or if you are asked to do additional hours in the holidays. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether permanent staff would be expected to do it for no additional pay, and if the answer is yes, leave it! After all, don’t you want to be one of those permanent staff? So create the impression that you do!

    Be a detective! Credit Flickr cc

    Be a detective – Always keep an ear to the ground, and keep an eye on the school website “vacancies” page. You need to know which jobs are coming up, and consider whether you might be suitable for them. Once you establish that there is an internal vacancy, find out who the line manager, and recruitment decision-maker are (if they are not the same person) and introduce yourself to them. Don’t go over-the-top and suddenly try to be their best friend, as this will come across as false. Instead, just be honest. Pick a time when they don’t look too busy or stressed, say you’ve heard about this vacancy coming up, tell them which class you currently work with and that you’d be really keen on the position. You can ask about the application process and follow it, but having a foot in the door and taking the time to introduce yourself personally to the line manager will help you to get ahead of the competition.

  4. Know your agency terms – Time to mention the elephant in the room – the recruitment fee! Yes, most agencies will charge a fee to a school who want to take a member of supply staff onto a permanent contract. And yes, sometimes that cost can be prohibitive. However, many agencies will also strike deals with the school to make the proposition more attractive. After all, they want to keep both their schools and their candidates happy. So tell your consultant that you’ve seen a permanent job at the school and want to be sure that any fee won’t prevent you from being considered. Ask them to have a chat to the school. By discussing the elephant in the room, it can be transformed from a prohibitive issue, to a non-issue. There may not even be a fee to pay if you’ve been there a while on supply, so this factor can be eliminated from their concerns and keep you in the running for the job.

There are always more fish in the sea! Credit Flickr cc

There are always more fish in the sea

It may not be what everyone wants to hear, but sometimes your perfect school just won’t have a vacancy for you when it comes to permanent positions. Don’t fret! There are other great schools out there with more great jobs! The most important things you can do when you know a supply job is coming to an end are:

  1. Inform your agency when you’re going to be free for work – keeping your availability to up to date is essential! If your agent doesn’t know when your current job is ending, how will they be able to find your next one?
  2. Update your CV – even the best agency will struggle to get you an interview if you don’t have an up to date CV.
  3. Provide up to date referees – if you can demonstrate, on paper, that your last school loved you, you are more likely to get a fresh job offer quickly.
  4. Remain flexible – don’t get bogged down with trying to find your perfect job – jobs which seem perfect on paper (or out of the mouth of your consultant) may often turn out not to be, and vice versa – what is important it to keep an open mind, and keep as many doors open as possible. After all, the more interviews and trial days you go on, the more likely you will be to find that elusive, perfect job.


I hope you have enjoyed all the animal references! Now, ask yourself, do YOU do all these things? Does it/has it helped you to keep a supply job? We’d love to hear your comments below.

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