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Why supply teaching is growing in popularity

Matthew Brown, managing director of giant group


According to recent reports, schools and other education institutions are increasingly relying on the skills of contractors. In fact, the latest information suggests that British schools spent over £1.3bn last year on supply teachers. And that’s not all – the latest analysis of our contractor database found that these professionals are benefitting from this dearth of permanent expertise and are embracing the contractor lifestyle. But why are supply teachers so highly sought after and what are they gaining from this demand?


For one thing the sector – like many others – is suffering from a significant skills shortage. This has been exacerbated by the ongoing austerity drive from the Conservative government. As a result, supply teachers have been relied upon more heavily over the past year and, according to our data, are feeling considerably more secure in their roles as a result. In addition, the percentage of professionals that would accept a permanent role if offered one has continued to fall for the third consecutive year, highlighting that contracting is becoming an increasingly popular option for education professionals.


Until recently, supply teaching perhaps would not have been recognised as a traditional contractor career, but this is changing. The fact that professionals are reporting increased security in their roles is likely largely down to skills shortages but the satisfaction of working as a contractor comes from the lifestyle. One specific benefit is that there’s considerably less bureaucracy and politics than there would be in an equivalent permanent teaching role. Teachers regularly report that some of the most challenging and demanding elements of their role come outside the classroom. Things like dealing with difficult parents and other teachers as well as negotiating masses of paperwork aren’t necessarily major issues for supply teachers.


More generally, operating as a contractor is well suited to the goals and motivators of the 21st century workforce. Many more professionals will now have dual family commitments and responsibilities that may take up much of their time and the flexibility gained from contracting allows for a significantly better work/life balance. Schools and other education institutions require skills on a flexible basis, particularly with the aforementioned shortages meaning many are left desperately short of staff and therefore rely on this specialist expertise. In addition, operating on a contract basis means teachers can learn from a variety of different experiences rather than being tied into one role. ​Professionals can realistically expect to operate in as many as five or six different environments within one year in many cases, which can only contribute to improved performance. The fact that supply teachers can earn more than their permanent counterparts also contributes to the growth in popularity.


Supply teaching is becoming the new way of working in the education sector and this trend is more than just a blip. Our ​statistics have highlighted that operating in this way has been growing in popularity for the past three years and reflects the overall trend of people looking to work as contractors. While schools are spending large amounts on securing the skills of these individuals, it’s likely to be a worthwhile investment as, without them, the sector would be in crisis. Next time we analyse our education database we expect to see even greater numbers of professionals looking to operate as supply teachers.


Why do you think supply teaching has grown in popularity?

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