Are supply teachers the most innovative and overlooked part of the edtech community?

The biggest surprise of ed-invent so far has come from a part of the education community who are frequently overlooked and often scorned as ‘second rate educators’ – supply teachers (also known as substitutes, subs, relief, CRT, occasional and casual teachers; depending on where you are in the world).

When we planned and launched ed-invent, supply teachers were not on our radar, nor I suspect on anyone’s in the international edtech community.

There is a real pejorative view of supply teachers in UK education circles, with the stereotype that they are mostly substandard educators who can’t get a full-time job or ‘foreigners’ who are funding an extended holiday through a loophole that allows them to teach in the UK.

The demonization of supply teachers is a media staple as a few recent headlines show:

  • Increase in supply teaching to cover absence, ‘hits learning’ BBC
  • Suffolk: schools spent over £9m on supply teachers last year Ipswich Star
  • Town’s schools spend more than £600,000 on supply teachers Manchester Evening News

So what have we learned about supply teachers so far at ed-invent?

  • individual teachers and major agencies have shown far more interest in and enthusiasm for ed-invent
  • far from being sub-standard, supply teachers are highly trained, motivated and have wide experience across the whole education sector
  • they are increasingly choosing supply teaching as a career option
  • they are amongst the most entrepreneurial and edtech-savvy educators we have ever come across
  • that three of the five edtech entrepreneurs that we videoed for ed-invent had been supply teachers
  • edtech entrepreneurs often start their business via supply teaching because it gives time flexibility and income (in investor-parlance it’s often called ‘early positive cash flow’)
  • 15% of our sign ups at Manchester were supply teachers but they accounted for 50% of the teachers we invited to the ed-invent residential competition taking place in Cambridge in April 2014.

Our experience (so far) is that the widely-held view of supply teachers is pejorative, outdated and wrong. Our ‘discovery’ is that supply teachers are a huge unrecognised, untapped and important group of edtech users as well as being a goldmine of edtech ideas and entrepreneurial talent.