Why we must support supply during exam season…

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With the 2015/16 cohort of GCSE students all mopped up for the year, I felt it was time to think about the role of a supply teacher during this critical period, and how they impact a student and their exam success.

We often hear criticism about supply staff in the classroom at this stage in a student’s journey, but what about the positive impacts?

GCSE students are under overwhelming amounts of pressure from the world around them – or seemingly to a daunted 16 year old with the world of expectation on their shoulders. Parents will do their best to support, of course…and teachers are a source of great comfort, but what about those students who have had a tumultuous journey to the final months of their secondary education? A supply teacher could be just the ticket…

At GCSE results day just passed we read about the bright young ‘whizz’ James Harkin – the 12 year old from Cardiff High School who achieved an A* in Maths in his first year post primary education. James is surely set – teachers will want him in their classes, bright young things will flock together and create our future doctors, business leaders and politicians and his academic career should be seamless.

But for some students their transition through secondary education can be fraught with pitfalls. Having a “history” or a “reputation” as such for some pupils might act as a negative to their advancement through the GCSE phase. A supply teacher walking through their doors offers up a fresh start.

One teacher who works for our team said “When I am given an assignment for a GCSE class, and it has the potential of becoming a long-term opportunity, I get very excited. There is a very real opportunity for both me and the students in the classroom to prove our own worth”.

He continues “when I walk through the classroom door for the very first time, I have no preconceived notion of what these pupils are about…even with handover notes and comments. I like to explain that this is a fresh start, no history and everyone in the room is equal. You can see the hope on some of their faces, and it’s always great to deliver a student from a predicted D to a B come results day”.

Our job then as an agency is to support the supply. We need to ensure that our Account Management team offer a level of respite – open ears to hear about any issues, successes or simple ‘off-the-wall’ stories about a teacher’s day. As we prepare for the next academic year ahead of us I am spending time talking to our teams about their relationships with their supply staff. You’ll often find me mocked as I insist that ‘candidate is king’, but equally we all know this to be true.

I am heartened by one Account Manager who has all of her supply staff’s key dates in her diary – birthdays, anniversaries and even booked holidays. She uses this to facilitate an open and honest relationship with her candidates, and it shows in the terrific amount of success she has…teachers come back to her year after year, as well as the schools she supports. When I ask her what is the most important thing about running a supply teacher desk she tells me straight ‘personality – mine, the supply staff and the schools’. With this attitude I am confident for another successful year ahead for New Directions Education, and if you are a supply teacher being gifted with a GCSE class – remember this is your fresh page too, write a great story and we’ll be here to listen at the end of the day.