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Maximising Your Supply Staff: A School Business Manager’s Guide

Supply TA

As a school business manager, ensuring that your supply staff, including teaching assistants, are equipped to provide the best support possible is essential for the smooth operation of your school.

Being on supply can entail many different experiences, even one day can prove a lot. Most supply staff are more than happy to return to the schools they’ve worked in but they do have the ability to say no to an assignment, that is simply the nature of the work.

As a SBM you have the opportunity to create a positive working environment for both staff and students and optimise the effectiveness of your supply teaching staff and teaching assistants (TAs). Here are some ways you can ensure supply staff want to return to your school.

  1. Differentiating Your School: In a competitive market, highlighting the unique benefits and opportunities your school offers can attract high-quality supply staff. Whether it’s a robust CPD programme, exciting extracurricular activities, or a supportive work environment, emphasising what sets your school apart can help attract top talent.
  1. Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support: Many supply TAs find themselves primarily working with students who have ALN/ SEN or require one-on-one assistance. While crafting a comprehensive one-page profile may seem daunting, ensuring that TAs have access to relevant information and resources is crucial for effective support. Try to provide them with the tools and information to best support the student/students or class they are working in. Most TAs are used to arriving at a school and knowing very little about their assignment, but it can still be a daunting experience meeting the child for the first time. First impressions count and it helps to know if the child you’re working with loves to chat and get to know all about new people or would rather have some space to acclimatise.  The first few moments of meeting the pupil can set the tone for the whole experience. It is vital to bond with that child to best support them.
  1. Breaks, Yard Duty and Facilities Orientation: A well-informed TA is a more effective TA. Make sure that new supply staff are familiarised with break times, restroom locations, and other essential facilities to minimise disruptions during the school day. They should also know what is expected of them and the children they are working with during lunch and break times. Are your supply TAs expected to stay and support that student during breaks? If they are, will they get an alternative break or additional lunchtime? Addressing concerns about yard duty and outdoor responsibilities upfront can alleviate any uncertainties. Providing clear guidelines on when and how TAs may be required for outdoor supervision, along with information on appropriate attire, can help manage expectations. 
  1. The Big Coat and Trainers Dilemma: It’s also crucial to communicate what attire is appropriate for teachers in your school. Are trainers more appropriate (perhaps in alternative provision or special schools) or are wellies needed for Forest School? The more your supply staff are comfortable, the better they can support the students under their care. A child who loves to get dirty will bond with and trust a TA who gets right in there with them!
  1. Communication and Transparency: Encourage open communication between supply and school staff. Providing ample opportunities for supply teachers or TAs to request more information about upcoming events, trips, or non-uniform days fosters a sense of inclusion and engagement. It can also help the TA make a connection with their student. If it is ‘PJ and Teddy Day’ or ‘Odd Socks Day’, let your supply staff know this as it is a great way for staff to engage with and relate to students.
  1. Logistical Considerations: Addressing practical concerns such as parking availability demonstrates that your school values and supports its supply staff. Supply staff will always endeavour to be early but some schools are more accessible than others. A heads up that traffic is bad around the school or that there is limited parking will help supply staff to arrive on time, relaxed and ready to take on anything!
  1. Supporting Work-Life Balance: Acknowledge and respect the personal commitments of your supply staff. Offering flexibility in scheduling and understanding their need to prioritise family obligations can foster loyalty and long-term relationships. This makes the staff want to return and offers the school more options and a larger pool of candidates to pull from.
  1. Emotional Challenges of the Job: Recognise the emotional toll of leaving a student who lacks the one-on-one support system they need. Perhaps you could chat with that person as they leave to see if they’d be willing to work with that child again. It can take a lot to build a relationship of trust with a different person every day or every week. It’s far better, for the child mainly, to have some form of stability. It would be beneficial to convey to the candidate that they will be working with a person or group they have been with before. If they know this beforehand, supply staff can come in knowing what to expect, how to help and what, if anything, to bring with them (maybe they know that the student loves Minecraft or Star Wars and they have a book they could bring in for the student to look at once they’ve completed their set tasks- this can be a great motivator!) It also benefits the children to know that their TA or teacher knows them and their needs or difficulties. This then benefits the school as it can prevent the number of distractions, negative situations or the need for SLT intervention.
  1. Empowerment and Advocacy: Encourage TAs to advocate for themselves and recognise their own worth. Providing opportunities for professional development or free CPD courses not only enhances their skills but also demonstrates your commitment to their growth and success.

By prioritising clear communication, logistical support, and emotional well-being, school business managers can empower supply staff to excel in their roles and contribute positively to the learning environment. A collaborative approach that values the contributions of all staff members is key to maximising the potential of your supply teacher or TAs and fostering a supportive and inclusive school community.

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Community Engagement Manager and Editor at Nexus Education. BA Hons English Literature.

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