Robert has 8 years of teaching experience and has a few tips to share with supply teachers heading into new classrooms.

Supply teachers need to be experts at ‘hitting the ground running’ when it comes to a booking at a new school. From my experience of working in numerous schools over several years, I’ve identified essential pieces of information that can sometimes be missed in any handover. Being aware of these factors can help ensure the school day runs smoothly — for both pupils and teachers!

1. Understand the registration system (and the school lunch system!)

This is one of the first things I check when starting at a new school. It’s a legal requirement, the register must be done at the start of the day. But how can you use registration time to start the day on the right foot? Ask the school which system they use. It probably requires a login and a password (and then a login and a password for the computer too). Remember if the system is cloud-based, it may log you out after a period of inactivity.

Schools also have several different methods of counting and registering children having a school or packed lunch. It’s vital you know what this system is because hungry children will be thinking about their stomachs, not your lesson!

2. Check the school’s marking policy

If the marking policy isn’t set out anywhere, check the children’s previous work in their books. I’ve found that pen colours for marking can be incredibly specific, so ensure you know what colour the teachers mark in. Be mindful that the colour may even differ from the other supporting staff in the room. Many schools will also use two different coloured highlighters; one for work that hits the success criteria and one for work that needs to be improved or edited. I’ve seen green and yellow being used for each of these in different schools, hence it pays to check beforehand to avoid a confused class.

It’s also worth asking if the school would like you to write ‘supply’ or ‘ST’ (Supply Teacher) in the corner of each book when marking. I’ve had schools say to me that this must be done, and others who specifically ask you not to write that a supply teacher took the lesson. If in doubt, ask. You can also go back a few pages in the exercise books and see what has been done before.

3. Are you covering somebody’s playground duty?

You may be covering an absent teacher whose playground duty falls on that day. In order to leave a good impression on the school, and of course make sure there are adequate staffing levels in the playground, check with other staff members when you lead the children out to play. If you are not on duty, always wait outside until the appropriate adult comes.

4. Familiarise yourself with the senior leadership team

This may be hard if your day at a school is an on-the-day booking, as you’ll have limited time to gather information. However, it really pays to know who all the important contacts are, especially for any serious behaviour issues or child protection concerns. If it’s a booking in advance, I look at the school’s website as many will have pictures of the senior leadership team.

5. Know the protocol for dismissing classes

Finally, once you’ve reached the end of the school day (and ready for a well-deserved rest!), it’s important to clarify whether the school has any special procedures for dismissing classes. For example, some schools won’t let a supply teacher dismiss children as they don’t know the parents or carers. Other schools will helpfully provide a clipboard with students’ names so you can tick them off as they leave.

Remember, if you’re teaching Year 5 or 6, it’s crucial to get a list of names of children who are allowed to go home by themselves. With this, I always remind the class before leaving the school site that they must point out their parents or carers to me before they wander off. It makes it much easier to account for everybody and effectively safeguard the children.


Robert Pokorny is the founder of Scheme Support, a directory of schemes of work for the English National Curriculum. He has been a primary school teacher in London for 8 years and is passionate about the role educational publishers can play in teaching and learning.

You might enjoy more of Robert’s insights, such as what to pack for a day of supply teaching and how supply teaching can benefit the growth of your side business!