The vast majority of apprentice teaching assistants are being used as “cheap labour” for just £3.50 an hour, the union GMB has found.
Analysis of 190 TA apprenticeship vacancies revealed that 143 (75 per cent) were advertised at the legal minimum wage for those in their first year of training.
A TA apprenticeship is a training programme that lasts around 60 weeks, in which participants learn how to support the improvement of teaching and learning in schools. During the course, they help set up the classroom, supervise pupils and support them in their work, among other tasks.
The TA apprenticeship is not a compulsory qualification for entering the job, but more schools are advertising them since the government introduced the apprenticeship levy in April. The levy obliges companies with an annual payroll of more than £3 million to contribute 0.5 per cent of it to the government, which can then be spent only on apprenticeships.
Andy Prendergast, a GMB organiser, described the £3.50 hourly rate as “a miserly reward for an important job”.
“Apprenticeships can be a valuable route into the world of work, but too often they are used to exploit young people and provide cheap labour for employers,” he said. “In many of these adverts it’s not even clear what training, if any, is actually provided.”
Prendergast claimed that teaching assistants are “under real threat as the education funding crisis deepens”. Many of GMB’s TA members are at risk of redundancy and are having their hours reduced, he said, and “there are real fears that apprentices will be left to fulfil tasks that should be carried out by experienced professionals”.
The average hourly wage advertised for a TA apprentice was just £3.81, while the highest on offer was £6, per the vacancies advertised on www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk in August.
This means TAs are paid 43 per cent less than the average hourly wage that other apprentices training at a similar level receive, which was roughly £6.70 an hour in 2016.
The £3.50 rate is less than half the £7.50 national minimum wage for over-25s, and somewhat lower than the regular national minimum wage for under 18s, which is £4.05.
According to the National Careers Service, a TA starting salary is between £11,500 and £14,000 a year, for 32 to 40 hours a week. This can rise to £17,000 with experience, but TAs are often only paid for the weeks they work during term time.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Apprentices must be paid a minimum of £3.50 per hour but most receive much more than this.
“We believe school leaders are best placed to use their professional judgement to decide how much to pay their staff, including apprentices.”
More than 4,000 teaching assistant posts have been lost in secondary schools since 2012, according to school workforce data published by the government in June.
Schools Week reported in March that the David Ross Education Trust was consulting on plans to cut up to 40 support staff jobs across its schools. GMB’s analysis found Eresby School in Lincolnshire, a member of DRET, advertising a TA apprenticeship at the lowest rate.
GMB also found that Greenacre School, a special school in Barnsley with just 200 pupils, was advertising for a total of nine teaching assistant apprenticeship posts, each of which paid £3.50 an hour.
Jon Richards, the national secretary of UNISON, told Schools Week that “all support staff apprenticeships are being done on the cheap”.
“Apprenticeships are replacing jobs that had previously been full-time, damaging the good name of posts,” he said.
“We all know it is funding cuts that are forcing schools to cut corners and wages.”
David Cobb, chief executive of Oceanova, a specialist in teacher recruitment and training, said that while “apprenticeships are a great opportunity”, they should not come “at the expense of well-being or being fair with pay”.
“It’s important for schools to realise that the levy is a way of upskilling all staff, especially those who are involved in teaching or leading the organisation,” he said.
“Collectively, schools will pay in the region of £100 million to the levy and there needs to be more expert advice about how best to use that money to develop and manage their talent.”