Securing direct employment on a supply basis

Cutting out the middleman - a marketing approach to applying for direct supply teaching work in schools. Part of the Alternatives to Agencies (A2A) toolkit.

This advice from Shelagh Kavanagh, member of the NEU organising forum for supply educators, can be read in conjunction with the NEU’s guidance for supply members on getting the most from your agency and other guidance on supply matters.

It is possible to work directly for schools as an on-call, on-payroll supply teacher, especially if you are already known to that school or group. I’ve used a marketing strategy and it has worked. You should consider taking a more strategic assertive approach. It’s hard work and it takes time. It’s worth it for the security it will bring. This is the reality of modern supply teaching. You are competing with professional companies with well-funded marketing departments. Raise your game; be competitive.

Build up a reputation

If you’ve been working in a school on supply through an agency, keep a record of who administers supply staff. While you are there, make sure to speak to senior staff, either at break or a convenient time, to let them know who you are and how well the children are doing, how helpful staff have been etc. Be positive. You want to be remembered as the person with the feel good factor. 

Leave the room tidy and mark books, even in the most perfunctory way. Just initial the corner of the page or tick the learning outcome if the student has attained it. Tell someone you’ve done it, or they won’t know. If the day has gone well, make sure that the head of year or department knows. 

Tell the administrator who has booked you, that you’d be happy to come back again. Remember, if you have not been back to a school for more than 14 weeks, the agency is no longer your intermediary and you can be booked directly – the agency transfer fee will not apply. Keep in touch.

Add value

While you are still with your agency, ask the schools where you are doing well to commend you to the agency. This will generate goodwill and demand and gives you leverage to ask for a better daily rate. The agency has enough wriggle room in their charge rate to allow for a slight, or even significant, uplift in your daily rate. Don’t ask, don’t get. Make the most of being with an agency. Also, check your rights under Agency Workers Regulations, as you might be eligible for an increase in pay anyway.

Then cut out the intermediary. You don’t need a commercial employment agency to obtain day-to-day supply work, although that is by far the most prevalent model of supply teacher engagement in England and Wales. There are significant advantages to you, the teacher, of being hired directly and on-payroll by a client school or a number of client schools. Having worked your way around a few schools, built up a reputation and increased your market value, you can start approaching schools yourself.

Investigate demand

Schools might not be looking for new staff, so sending a speculative CV and covering letter on the off chance that they might be doing so is an extremely high risk, low return strategy and may immediately create the wrong impression. Most genuine vacancies in schools are advertised with a proviso that “We don’t accept CVs”. 

You need to demonstrate that you understand what the school is looking for – and it’s not letters and CVs. So, I would strongly advise against the traditional CV and covering letter, as it will almost certainly go straight into the shredder, unless you are certain that the school is regularly looking for casual staff or you have already seeded the idea that there are alternatives to agencies. Schools don’t consider unsolicited CVs and rarely keep them on record. They would have a crateful of them, if they kept every letter from every hopeful.

Plant the idea

The decision to hire supply staff might not be made by the head teacher, so you could ruin your chances of even being considered by approaching the wrong person. Find out who books supply. Demand is created by repeated subliminal messages to the appropriate consumer. You can’t sell something the target doesn’t think they want. You need to create the demand. You should know your market a bit better if you’ve already worked on step 1 and got them to want your services.

Know your client

Unless you are a very assertive person, selling doesn’t come naturally. You have to rehearse what you are going to say, you need to anticipate what your target is likely to ask, and you have to get your message across early. You will need to do your research on every school, what their ethos is, what their values are. Being on supply allows you to do this. 

You need to find out who books supply in each of them, make a list of names, email addresses, phone numbers. You will need to phase your approach, getting a bit closer every time. This is how agencies do it and explains why they have totally infiltrated the market. You have to play them at their own game.

Create materials

Ditch the CV, for now; it’s just not eye-catching. Make a one-page flier – one that you could use as an email attachment. This needs to be professional, so that it looks like you could at least cover the occasional computing lesson! Find a template online if computer graphics are not your thing. Get your key message across in one sentence, such as: “The new way to hire supply teachers is by direct on-payroll engagement.” 

Don’t even try to explain or justify. Selling is not about talking. You have to assume that that direct hiring is an actual thing and it’s here, now. 

Give your key details, name, contact, and summary of what you do - local supply educator, specialising in [insert specialisms here]. Get a quote from one of those schools you have been familiarising yourself with in step 1. (“S Teacher is a reliable and versatile substitute teacher” head teacher, village school, or “Thanks for looking after 4C, while I was in hospital” Mrs Newmum, village school) so potential clients can see that you are real and in demand. 

Also make some visiting cards, again with just your name (S Teacher, BA Hons, PGCE, email address and phone number + slogan - supply teaching problems solved). Rather than a logo, have a good quality, professional looking shoulder and head insert picture of yourself. Set up a separate email address that again reinforces the message (S Teacher, supply_solved @ You have to look like the solution to a problem. Use the word solution. 

Also, words like new, innovative, better, safer, local, trusted are persuasive without being heavy-handed. It’s not about looking corporate, but you do need to look professional. Don’t look like a newbie or a chancer. Don’t rush it. Give it some thought. Be very objective. It’s not about you; it’s about tailoring your offer to the client’s needs.

Tidy up your existing online and virtual presence

Take down any silly pictures or controversial and opinionated tweets. Quit any groups that aren’t conducive to your image as a serious teacher. Join some that are, such as academic and professional online groups. This is not just for appearance; you might find some useful information. 

Start following leading education professionals. Read what they’ve got to say and learn what is important to them. Watch and learn. Create the right online footprint and professional network for yourself and surround yourself with positive people who can help. It’s a day well spent. Put some effort into this and psych yourself up.

Test your market

Selling is a numbers game. You have to approach every single potential client. It’s best to trial your pitch and materials on less favoured school as a pilot scheme. Don’t blow your chances with your favourite school until you’ve practiced.

Phase your approach

Your first move is to send a brief email to a named person, headed something like ‘local supply teaching solution’, attaching the flier. Avoid sending to a generic address - office@whatever - or it might go straight to junk. Use an email tracker to show if it has been opened (depending on which email platform you use, this is a built-in service.) 

Give the named person in school a very quick call within 24 hours, asking if they have received your email, ask when they’ll have time to talk to you more fully. Avoid first thing in the morning or lunchtime. Don’t let them put you off – you do this by offering a day and a time when you are available and give them two choices. 

Follow up by sending a hard copy of the flier, regardless of whether you spoke to anyone or just went to voicemail. Now wait for about a week. Keep a record of who you mailed, who received, who you spoke to, who you left a voicemail for. The first call is just the cold call and you don’t need to overwhelm them with a full-on pitch. This will give you time to prepare a more specific application.

Don’t be put off

The response rate is very low, so many schools might not even acknowledge you. This means, you will have to try again, in a few weeks. Allow for school holidays. I got lucky at the very end of the summer holiday, when a teacher on capability arranged to leave without serving notice and there was an unexpected vacancy that needed cover from day one, while the post was advertised. 

This happens quite frequently. I got a year’s work. It was only because I had been approaching schools that seemed to have frequent vacancies. They might be challenging to work in, but schools that are unsettled find it hard to attract staff. They might prefer to keep you as a casual worker, while they sort out their problems. 

It pays to scan the job vacancies section of TES and also the websites of local schools. You will see patterns emerging. This is what agencies do, so they start refining their targets. Be diligent.


You are asking schools to engage you on payroll as a casual worker. If a school has agreed to talk to you, or even reluctantly let down their guard and not put the phone down on you, just stick to the script. Be pleasant, take an interest in them, get them talking. Assume that they’ve asked you the questions that you are the solution to. 

“The thing you’ll want to know is ...”, “You might be asking ...”. What they will want to know is exactly what it is you are offering. So, once they are interested, then you have to give the real details. This is why you need first to try it out on a school that is not your preferred school, to hear if there are any objections or questions and refine your approach.

Features and benefits

Why should the school use your services? What are the key features of your offer and why is it good for the client, the children and the community? Don’t bother criticising the agency model of engagement – a lot of schools like it, so you’ll just come across as bitter. Be positive.

The features are: you are local - this means that you will be not be commuting and thus will be punctual and also available at very short notice; you are a qualified teacher - this means that absent teachers might not have to plan cover work for an unplanned absence; you are not tied to an agency – this means there will be no transfer fees if the school hires you; and you will be attached to a specific school(s) – this means that you will build up relationships with staff and students, fit in with the school’s ethos, ensure continuity of behaviour and learning. You can also think of your own features and benefits, but this creates a rhythmic, logical thought process that is very appealing when you are asking people for a lot of money.

Formal application

Now the school will expect you to complete their application form, in order to put you on payroll. Your job title should be ‘teacher’. Be clear about this, because you will then be entitled to your main pay scale rate and you will automatically be included in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

Further reading

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