Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said:

“It has been clear for many years that support staff have been getting a bad deal. Long hours and the taking on of extra tasks outside of their role and without additional pay, are sadly all too commonplace an experience.

“In our most recent survey, 78% of support staff members reported that they routinely work extra hours each week, with 18% of the total sample reporting 4-6 hours and 10% doing anything from 7-11 hours and beyond. The overwhelming majority are paid for term-time only and just 15% get to take their full lunch break with any regularity. This is something they are also not paid for. 

“Compared to when the contracted hours question was asked in an equivalent survey just weeks before the pandemic, the numbers working to just their contract hours has dropped from 26% in 2020 to 22% in 2022, whereas those working 7 or more hours has increased by half a percent in the same period. The squeeze on those able to work within their contract is all too clear. 

“Our members also tell us that they are asked to undertake cover supervision, which falls outside of their role. 40% of those responding to our survey confirmed they have been charged with this work at their school, and 74% of that group believe it is not possible to carry out cover supervision without engaging in specified work, i.e. teaching. Indeed, more than two thirds (69%) believe the work to be identical to that of a supply teacher. This is consistent with responses to surveys in 2019 and 2020, demonstrating that this blurring of the lines and teaching on the cheap was a problem long before the pressures of Covid.

“Clearly, this uptick in the misuse of support staff is saving money but is very far from desirable practice either for workers or pupils. Across the whole education workforce, support staff are also some of the most vulnerable – less protected, and often with a fear of being replaced or let go.

“That is why we need to see a National Conditions of Service for support staff which marks a sea-change on their treatment, to define their job and provide clarity when lines are crossed. This is not only badly overdue, but also essential if we are to ensure that all support staff are respected and not further exploited.”

Editor’s Note

The survey of NEU support members was conducted between 26 November - 27 December 2021 and received 1,121 responses. 


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  • 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. 
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