Supply Teachers: How to Help Yours to be Even Better

Do you want every lesson to be good or outstanding for your pupils? If so, here’s 14 ways to help your supply teachers to perform even better. The tips are for primary schools and focus on day-to-day, rather than long term, supply. There are two sections:

A: Advice for School Leaders and Office Staff

Your supply staff are working with pupils in 25 minutes from now. So, what is the quickest way you can get them into their classroom with the knowledge and equipment they need? To achieve this, streamline what you do and then streamline it even more.

1. Provide a very brief handbook for supply teachers

Choose your key points and then outline them in the fewest words possible.

Screenshot of a School's Handbook for Supply Teachers

You can download and edit this example for your school here.

2. If you have an electronic sign in system, can you streamline it?

Some sign in systems are unduly lengthy. Are there bits that are there because we’ve always done it that way? For example, why do you ask supply visitors to sign the screen? What do you do with that signature? If your sign in system photographs everyone who signs in, what does the signature add?

Every moment we save getting supply staff safely in is time they can use to prepare for pupils. Therefore, do you really need:

Also, can you tweak the screen asking for the person’s name who I’m visiting? New visitors don’t know names – set it so that visitors can type ‘Year 2.’

It’s not just the supply staff who benefit from a speedier sign in. It also means that your own staff aren’t caught up in a queue to sign in and that your office staff can get back to their other jobs more quickly. Every second counts.

“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add… but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviation pioneer

3. Streamline your ID checks for supply teachers

Some schools do more than they need to. You need a letter of assurance from the agency to say that all the right checks have been completed (because this also confirms reference checks, right to work in the UK etc). This letter can cover all their supply staff – you don’t need a letter for every individual.

You must:

However, you don’t need to:

4. Provide two paper registers

If supply teachers can’t access your electronic register, print two paper copies of the register. This prevents the office staff being interrupted later in the day when a child is sent for another copy (or worse – the afternoon register being overlooked altogether).

5. Tell supply teachers the key locations

You do point out the toilets and staff room. Remember to also point out:

6. Make sure the laptop isn’t rubbish

How do we expect our supply teachers to deliver outstanding teaching if we give them the laptop that:

Buy a new battery, ask you IT technician to install more RAM or buy a new laptop. Teaching unfamiliar classes is hard enough without the handicap of ancient laptops.

7. Label classroom doors

Classroom door sign to help supply teachers to be successful.

Nothing fancy: Just year group and the class teacher’s name. Yes – it’s possible to get lost in a primary school. Moreover, if the teacher’s name is forgotten, there’s a really easy way to for supply teachers to check. This helps behaviour management (“I can’t wait to tell Mrs Hodkins how well you’ve done today Tyler.”)

B: Advice for Teachers

8. Decide whether you really want to leave White Rose maths

The White Rose slides don’t always match the sheets. Supply teachers don’t know which pupils have the right prior learning to access the varied questions. Because of this, children might need extra input – but your supply teacher can’t predict who or when. Your supply teacher can end up fire-fighting against off task behaviour from children who can’t access their work independently (it’s reactive teaching rather than proactive).

If lots of pupils are struggling, it’s hard for the supply teacher to be good or outstanding. What’s more, you may end up reteaching the lesson.

If your school does use White Rose maths, one solution is to give your supply teacher a geography lesson to teach in the morning instead of maths. Then have a double-maths day later in the week (when you’re back in).

9. Brief the TA the day before

If you know the plan, then share it with the TA the day before. TAs play a key role in the day being successful. Informed TAs see round corners – for example getting the glockenspiels from the music cupboard on their way to class. TAs are precious on any day – but they are extra-precious on supply days. The more informed they are, the better.

10. Name a couple of reliable children

Supply teachers need to ask questions about routines and rules, so tell them who’ll give them a reliable and concise answer.

11. Provide rules for toilet, water bottles and sharpening pencils

The supply teacher won’t know who has kidney issues or poor bladder control.

Put yourself in their shoes… If you didn’t know which pupil has issues, would you be cautious? Yes? Pupils typically take advantage of this. Give supply staff your rules for toilet trips, water bottles and pencil sharpening and they can follow them. If you don’t give any rules, some pupils may spend a big chunk of the day drinking water, visiting the loo and sharpening pencils.

These off-task behaviours are often seen in SEND pupils more than non-SEND. Our SEND pupils are precisely the pupils we want to close the gap. So, it’s doubly important to share your rules.

12. Provide a seating plan

An example seating plan for a supply teacher to use.

Using a child’s name really helps to build relationships (and that helps behaviour), so a seating plan lets supply teachers know who is where. It’s also really helpful when the child comes and says ‘Mia’s not sitting in the right place’ as the supply teachers can just check the plan.

If your school sets for English and maths, you’ll need a seating plan for those lessons too. It doesn’t need to be fancy (hand drawn is fine) and, in KS2, you can ask a reliable child to write the names on.

13. Bin things

Not thrown away last week’s reading comprehension sheets? Piles of paper on your sides?

When you teach in someone else’s class and it’s messy, everything is harder to find. Use the fact that you’ve supply cover to motivate you to bin (or file) things.

14. When giving info about behaviour, say what works

If you’re in school and giving a verbal handover, don’t drown the supply staff with issues about pupil behaviour. We don’t have lots of time to ruminate on past woes. Therefore, you need to summarise key issues and then say what you find works best.


Remember, there is a reported shortage of supply teachers. Just like you can choose to not have supply teachers back, they can opt to not come back. Supply staff returning is good for consistency and quality of teaching and learning.

There is no us and them with supply teachers. We are all on the same team. The tips above make it easier for supply teachers to perform at their best help you and, in doing so, support even more outstanding teaching & learning.

More helpful info for school staff (including supply teachers!)

  • Aaron King, Director

    With over 20 years experience of working with children & young people in both mainstream and SEND settings, Aaron King is the driving force behind 9000lives.

    Aaron has written for the TES, including in the Leadership & Governance sections. He has also been a school governor for around 15 years.

  • Aaron King

    Aaron King Director

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