School support staff are being exploited

Support staff expected to carry out tasks that used to be carried out by teachers

Published on 12th March 2018

School support staff are experiencing soaring workloads, with many expected to teach classes, a union has warned.

A survey by the National Education Union found more than half of teaching assistants, lab technicians and school librarians are carrying out more tasks that used to be carried out by teachers as staff are cut.

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.”

The survey of more than 1,700 support members found:

  • 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.

  • 60 per cent of respondents report that the number of support staff has decreased in their school.

  • 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 work more than two days extra a month.

  • Almost two thirds of respondents said any overtime they did was unpaid work.

A cover supervisor in Rotherham said: “Teaching is required every lesson, usually with some prep”. 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.

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”.

Nearly one thousand respondents 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 and five per cent said that the school demands it.

Almost half of respondents who cover classes for teachers stated that the role nearly always requires an element of teaching, and 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”.

Dr Bousted concluded: “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.”



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