Published: 00:01, 10 August 2016
A former primary school teacher is aiming to shake up the way schools find supply staff with a new online service cutting out costly temp agencies.
Helen Thomson believes her website supplyteachers.direct will make the process of finding short-notice stand-ins easier and less expensive for head teachers managing tightening budgets.
Her company has received an £8,000 interest-free loan from Kent County Council to get the project off the ground.
It works by allowing head teachers to send out messages directly to available supply teachers around the clock, with schools charged a flat annual membership fee rather than commission on each appointment.
Mrs Thomson was inspired to create the website after she tried to return to supply teaching after a spell as a trainer and writer for an educational publisher.
She was shocked by the fees being charged by agencies to both schools and tutors.
Mrs Thomson, who lives in Elham, near Folkestone, said: “What the agency was offering was ridiculous. It wasn’t just a one-off cut.
“They will charge schools to process the supply teacher’s payment and charge teachers £40 a month to process their wages. Everyone is getting ripped off twice.
“That has put a lot of qualified and experienced people off of going back to the classroom, even though we have a teacher shortage.
“I thought ‘There has got to be a better system than this’.”
Mrs Thomson’s service is completely free for supply teachers, while each school’s annual membership fee depends on its number of pupils.
“It is simple and straightforward and there is no middle man taking their cut...” - Helen Thomson, supplyteachers.direct
It gives them access to as many stand-in staff as they need annually, all of whom have been interviewed and screened by Mrs Thomson, as well as checked for a valid DBS certificate, previously known as a CRB.
Schools can also decide to employ the supply teachers as members of staff without an agency charging a finder’s fee.
Mrs Thomson said: “In the old model it’s a three-way communication. If a school needs a teacher, it phones an agency, which might be closed after school hours.
“The agent then phones through teachers, which is very old-fashioned. It is not digitised at all.
“I think of this as a dating site for schools and teachers.
“The head teacher signs up and if they need a teacher at 9pm they can go on the database and send out an SOS.
“That is then sent to all the people able to teach that subject on the system who have marked themselves as available for the next day within that area. Then it is down to whichever person responds first.”
The company website and database has been developed by Red Dragon ICT, based in Mersham, Ashford, while business advice has come from Owl Communications and Training in Canterbury.
“It is simple and straightforward and there is no middle man taking their cut,” said Mrs Thomson. “This is a more effective system than the old-fashioned agency route.”