Support staff survey 2023

NEU survey shows widespread funding and workload pressures on school support staff.


Today, the National Education Union publishes the findings of a survey of almost 7,500 support staff members in England and Wales. It shows that

  • 75% are routinely working outside of contract hours;
  • more than half (51%) tell us that their workplace has seen a reduction in the numbers of support staff in the past year; and
  • two-fifths (41%) undertake cover supervision, the majority of whom (75%) describe that work as teaching and therefore beyond the bounds of their contract.

Support staff are most vulnerable to staffing cuts at a school, and they have also experienced significant real-terms pay cuts in recent years. The findings of this survey show that they continue to bear the brunt of budget strains in schools, often working unpaid hours and taking the role of a supply teacher for a fraction of the cost.

Working Hours

Do you regularly work extra hours over your contracted hours? If so, how many per week?



1-3 hours


4-6 hours


7-10 hours


11 hours and over


75.5% told us that these extra hours are worked because ‘workload demands it’, and 30% confirmed it was because there has been a ‘reduction in support staff numbers at their workplace’ and for 7.5% a reduction in teacher numbers.

"As a senior teaching assistant [TA], they give you lots of roles but no extra time to do planning or resourcing - plus you get jobs from teachers who delegate down to you as they are swamped. The job list gets longer and longer every day."

"There's not enough members of staff. Lack of experienced staff. Lots of apathy - you can earn more in a supermarket." 

Just 15% say they are paid for these extra hours, 19% ‘sometimes’ and 66% not at all.

Support staff members also report to us that they start work before their contracted start time (58%) and leave work after the contracted end time (42%).

A teaching assistant working in Rhondda Cynon Taf said: "I begin before contracted hours and leave work after contracted hours plus work 15 minutes into my unpaid dinner break and we no longer take our unpaid 15 minutes afternoon break due to my workloads in class."

A teaching assistant in Nottinghamshire told us, "I start at least 30 minutes before my shift and leave at least one hour after my shift every day."

"Both,” said a teaching assistant in Cumbria. “There are always too many things to do in the working hours so I always end up coming in earlier and staying later to get things done. Even taking things home to do."

Do you feel your workload has increased in the last 12 months?

Strongly agree




Neither agree nor disagree




Strongly disagree


This is broadly consistent with previous years; those who strongly agree has grown from 34% when the same question was asked in 2019.

"We have less support staff but more special needs children joining the school."

"Two full time vacancies [have not] been filled for last 10 months. As office manager I have covered these as well as my own job."

"My workload was always large but it felt like a manageable challenge. Now I feel regularly overwhelmed and unable to complete my usual work as well as my extra cover." 


A majority of respondents (51%) confirmed that the number of support roles at their school has reduced since last year. However, for around a third (36%) there has been some stability - either an increase in support staff, or the same number being maintained.

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





Stayed the same


Don’t Know


"TAs who leave haven't been replaced or take a long time to recruit. Often experienced staff are being replaced with apprentices."

"Decreased hugely. Either not replaced as no suitable applicants, or not enough school budget to afford new staff."

"We have a large and increasing number of staff who are on long term sick leave."

Teaching on the cheap

Two fifths (41%) of respondents told us that they undertake ‘cover supervision’, which entails providing an adult presence in the classroom in the absence of the teacher and should not mean the delivery of lessons. For a significant majority (73%), this sharp distinction does not apply, and they report that they end up delivering the lesson i.e. teaching. Indeed, for 75% of respondents to our support staff survey there was no difference between their cover supervisor work and that of a supply teacher.

"My fiancé is a supply teacher and she does the same work as me, but is just paid twice as much. My school is using TAs as very cheap cover."

This is highly consistent with previous surveys. In 2019, 76% described this work as ‘identical’ to a supply teacher.

"I am a cover supervisor and I am always teaching, not just supervising,” said one member in West Berkshire. By and large I'll be teaching new content with limited to no resources in a subject I don't know enough about."

A higher level teaching assistant in Conwy said: "I regularly cover PPA sessions for teachers, I am usually expected to plan and prepare for these lessons myself." Someone in the same position in Bracknell Forest adds: "I am always teaching. 5 days a week."

"I have taught multiple subjects at GCSE level with little to no support from mainstream teachers,” said another HLTA in Cardiff. “I have used BBC bitesize, YouTube and twinkl to teach myself before teaching pupils."

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Support staff are important but put-upon members of the school community. Too many are being driven beyond the point of contractual agreement to deliver work which is either unpaid, unsuited, or both.

“As successive annual surveys have shown, unpaid hours are a fact of life. It cannot be right that a majority of support staff now do the work of teachers as a matter of routine. This is a consequence of workload and staffing cuts, brought about by persistent underfunding of schools.

“It continues to be the case that support staff are treated as the cheap option, and by definition are undervalued. Earlier this week we learnt that almost half of support staff (48%) intend to leave the profession within five years. If this exodus is to be prevented, then a major shift in Government policy is needed.”

Editor’s Note

The National Education Union’s annual survey of support staff members was conducted online through membership and received 7,430 responses between 10 February – 6 March 2023.



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