School support staff vacancies have almost doubled since before the pandemic, new analysis suggests.
An analysis of school and college job pages shows support roles were mentioned an additional 14,200 times in 2021-22, compared to pre-pandemic 2018-19.
The research by SchoolDash, shared exclusively with Schools Week, also shows a year-on-year increase in vacant roles at the start of the school year, when schools would normally have filled all their positions.
At one school, children with complex needs had to be sent home because staff members were unable to accommodate one-to-one support. Some headteachers have also been forced to take up caretaker duties such as opening up the school in the morning.
Surge in vacancies across all support staff jobs
SchoolDash analysed job advert boards from 5,238 secondary schools and sixth-form colleges over the past four academic years. Among 13 different types of school support staff roles found, 85 per cent were from secondaries.
Mentions of pastoral managers on job boards grew by a staggering 244 per cent since 2018-19.
This was followed by sports coaches (146 per cent), admin assistants (108 per cent), caretakers and cleaners (107 per cent) and cover supervisors (102 per cent).
Meanwhile, mentions of teaching assistants rose by 89 per cent but the actual numbers were vast – with 7,300 mentions in 2021-22.
A snapshot of listed roles on September 14 shows 606 teaching assistant positions, up from 375 on the same day in 2018 – a 62 per cent rise.
Deprived schools likely to be worst hit
While the SchoolDash data looked at just secondary schools, the impact could be even greater among primaries.
Research from the Education Policy Institute shows two-thirds of teaching assistants work in primaries. Schools with more poorer pupils also spend the most on teaching assistants.
Headteacher Alan Brown has been opening and closing the school gates and carrying out safety checks at Oldfield Primary School in Chester after being unable to replace his newly-retired site manager.
Just two applicants applied for the job when it was posted back in July. One of those was offered the job, but he decided the salary would not cover relocation costs.
“We even considered offering additional overtime to make it more attractive for them, but it still wasn’t enough,” said Brown.
The school is now advertising again. In the meantime, it is Brown’s responsibility to clear fallen leaves from the playground this autumn.
‘Staff don’t have to be very good’
Jamie Barry, head at Yew Tree Primary School in Walsall, West Midlands, has three supply teaching assistants from recruitment agencies.
He “didn’t have problems” with filling non-teaching roles before Covid-19.
But job vacancies have risen to a record high in 2022, figures from the Office for National Statistics show. Public sector wages have fallen behind private sector wages in real terms.
According to the GMB Union, the median hourly wage for teaching assistants in 2021 was £10.46, while the basic hourly wage at Aldi is now £10.50.
“We do still get some people applying for jobs, but I’ve never seen such poor-quality applications,” said Barry. “Because there’s so many vacancies, to be quite blunt about it, they don’t have to actually be very good.”
‘Good lord, how am I going to recruit?’
Out in the Cumbrian sticks, Moresby Primary School recently lost its senior admin assistant to a better paid job that offered remote working.
When she applied to the role at Moresby, she was one of 30 applicants, said headteacher Ross Peacock. When it was readvertised this summer, they received just three applications.
“Last week I found out one of my teaching assistants is expecting, which is obviously a very happy thing and we are delighted for her,” he added.
“But it does mean I’m going to have to find somebody else later in the year and I’m already thinking ‘good lord, how am I going to do that’.”
Schools are struggling with a teacher recruitment crisis. But Thomas Moore, head at Bury C of E in West Sussex, said attracting teachers was easier than support staff.
“When we last put out an advert for a TA role in January we had to extend it. In the end we just had two applications,” he said. “Whereas with teaching ones, even for the most recent roles, we had nine applicants.”
The school is currently recruiting after-school club support due to increased demand from parents. Last year, teachers took on the job on rotation.
“But then they’re not able to do their work and planning,” said Moore. “I’m not sure how we’re going to recruit for it though.”
Apprenticeships and sweeteners
Chantal Dossantos, head of education partnerships of recruitment firm Eteach, said more schools are using sweeteners to entice staff. Examples include wellbeing programmes, childcare vouchers and free school lunches.
Anita Bath, chief executive at Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust in the North East, said heads are finding it harder to cater for an increase in children with educational health care plans (EHCPs) that have complex needs.
There had been incidents of children “having to go home because there just isn’t the person there to give them the support,” she added.
The trust, which runs 39 schools, is hoping to fill gaps through running its own apprenticeships. Another option is to set up open days where the trust could upsell all its vacancies to the local community.
“The real answer is people need to be paid more, but that isn’t an option at the moment,” said Bath.
In a statement, Unison head of education Mike Short said departures were causing “extra work and stress” for current staff.
“Soaring inflation is forcing support workers to take better paid, less stressful jobs in other sectors. Big challenges and low wages are putting off new recruits, leaving schools in dire straits,” he added.
The DfE did not respond to a request for comment.