NEU Survey finds workload increases for support staff in schools as staff are cut

Teaching assistants, school librarians and lab technicians are facing a soaring workload as staff are cut and they are increasingly being expected to teach, according to a National Education Union (NEU) survey of over 1,700 support staff members.

More than half (54%) of respondents find they are carrying out more tasks that used to be performed by teachers in the past such as marking pupils’ work and data entry. A cover supervisor in Rotherham said: “Teaching is required every lesson, usually with some prep”.

Cover supervisors are meant to be “suitably-trained school staff who supervise pupils carrying out pre-prepared exercises when teaching staff are on short-term absence. The cover supervisor’s main job is to manage a classroom, ensuring that students remain on task with the work they have been set”, according to skillsforschools.org.uk.1

A learning support assistant (LSA) in a secondary school in Lambeth gave a lengthy list of teaching tasks LSAs were doing in their school: “Planning differentiation materials, planning for lessons, creating resources, contacting parents about pupils’ progress, running curriculum clubs, supporting enrichment for year 11 pupils”.

Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “This survey shows the worrying use of support staff who are being over-worked and used as cheap labour to teach. With school budgets cut to the bone, it is easy to see why this is happening. Schools are woefully underfunded and struggling to make ends meet. But this needs to stop. Support staff are being exploited and it is children’s education that suffers, if they are not being taught by qualified teachers and supported adequately by the valuable support staff. Support staff need to be paid fairly for the work they do, and for the hours they work.”

60 per cent of respondents report that the number of support staff has decreased in their school. The cut in support staff places more pressure on the workload of the remaining support staff. In Lincolnshire, one TA noted that the “remaining TAs are pulled all over the place”.

Figures for secondary schools for 2016 show support staff numbers have declined by nearly five thousand compared to the previous year and by almost ten thousand compared to three years previously, while teacher numbers have fallen by six thousand since 2013.2

Member comments expressed in the NEU survey included: “There aren’t enough hours in the day to cover all paper work”, “To do my roles as well as I can requires 55-60 hours per week plus school holidays”, “minimal staffing means that we have all taken on extra workload”.

Thirteen per cent of respondents said they regularly work over seven extra hours a week above their contracted hours, which equates to one extra day a week. One third (32%) work more than two days extra a month. Worryingly, almost two thirds (60%) of respondents said any overtime they did was unpaid work.

A pastoral leader in Herefordshire said: “There seems to be confusion as to whether I should be paid; not paid or given time off in lieu…I'm not paid enough for the hours I do”.

Nearly one thousand respondents (72%) said the extra hours they worked were a result of a demanding workload. Nearly one quarter said that there is an expectation to take on extra work (24%) and five per cent that the school demands it.

An HLTA in York said: “I am paid for running a breakfast club each morning before school but this is not part of my contracted hours and therefore not pensionable. I work an additional 4 - 5 hours a week unpaid to mark books for the lessons I prepare and teach as PPA cover (planning, preparation and assessment)”.

A Head of Careers from a school in Barnet said: “I sometimes take time in lieu but it is never a true reflection of what I have done and continued to do at home”.

Almost half (41%) of respondents who cover classes for teachers stated that the role nearly always requires an element of teaching, and the majority (75%) considered their work to be identical to that of a teacher, despite being paid at a support staff rate. A technician in Leeds remarked, “the boundaries are blurred”.

A Hertfordshire technician said: “It is rare that the pupils can work entirely independently and I feel they often benefit from input and encouragement”.

A cover supervisor in Staffordshire said: “I teach. Complex work is left and expected to be delivered at a high standard using SIMS (School Information Management System software) and technology”.

A higher learning teaching assistant (HLTA) in Cardiff said she had to teach all subjects and “mark books of any classes I cover”. On average, she covered classes three days a week.

An HLTA from a primary school in Cheshire said: “Whenever I cover, it's always teaching a class”.

An HLTA from North Tyneside said: “I plan and deliver the sessions, mark and assess them”.

The National Education Union (ATL section) held their support staff annual conference in London on Saturday 10th March 2018.

ENDS

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Note to editors:

  • The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.
  • It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
  • The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.

Further notes:

Responses are taken from the Support Staff (Maintained and Academies) Survey 2017, carried out in Winter 2017. It involved 1741 Support Staff in maintained and academy schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands

1 http://www.skillsforschools.org.uk/roles-in-schools/cover-supervisor

2 Support staff in State funded secondary schools total number 2016: 166,400; 2015: 170,600; 2013: 175,500. FTE regular teachers in State funded secondary schools: 2016: 208,200; 2013: 214,200;     Data taken from DfE: School workforce in England: November 2016 (Tables 2a & 2b)

Pupil numbers have grown rapidly in primary schools, by 15% since 2010, while in secondary schools, the population bulge in primaries has started to filter through and in the last two years, pupil numbers have risen by 2% (almost 60,000 pupils). By 2024 there are forecast to be over half a million more secondary students than in 2017, a rise of 19%. Data taken from DfE: National pupil projections: July 2017 (Table 1)

 

Support Staff (Maintained and Academies) Survey 2017

   

Has the number of support staff in your school changed over the past year?

 

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Increased

13.25%

221

 

Decreased

59.95%

1000

 

Stayed the same

19.24%

321

 

Don't know

7.55%

126

 
 

Answered

1668

 
 

Skipped

81

 

In the past year, have you started carrying out tasks that teachers used to perform in the past. eg data entry, managing displays, marking pupils' work?

 
 

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Yes

54.96%

914

 

No

45.04%

749

 
 

Answered

1663

 
 

Skipped

86

 

Do you undertake cover supervision?

     

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Yes

41.66%

674

 

No

58.34%

944

 
 

Answered

1618

 
 

Skipped

131

 

Has it been possible to supervise the class without engaging in specified work i.e. teaching lessons?

 
 

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Yes

24.83%

185

 

No

75.17%

560

 
 

Answered

745

 
 

Skipped

1004

 

Do you consider the work you do when acting as cover supervisor to be identical to that done by supply teachers?

 
 

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Yes

75.79%

573

 

No

15.48%

117

 

Don't know

8.73%

66

 
 

Answered

756

 
 

Skipped

993

 

How many extra hours over your contracted hours do you regularly work per week?

 

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

None

22.20%

377

 

1-3 hours

45.35%

770

 

4-6 hours

19.67%

334

 

7-10 hours

6.77%

115

 

11 hours and over

6.01%

102

 
 

Answered

1698

 
 

Skipped

51

 

If you work extra hours is it because: (please tick all that are applicable)

 

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Your school demands that you do

4.97%

68

 

Your workload demands it

72.75%

996

 

You take on extra work because you want to

24.54%

336

 

It is expected that you do

19.72%

270

 
 

Answered

1369

 
 

Skipped

380

 

Are you paid or otherwise compensated for this extra work?

   

Answer Choices

Response Percent

Responses

 

Yes

17.59%

250

 

No

60.38%

858

 

Sometimes

22.03%

313

 
 

Answered

1421

 
 

Skipped

328

 

 

 

Press release
12 March 2018