Support staff needed to ease teacher workload crisis, says DfE study

Government-commissioned report calls for more 'curriculum support officers' to help teachers with admin

Government-commissioned report calls for more 'curriculum support officers' to help teachers with admin

21 Jul 2023, 15:35

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More support staff are needed to prevent teachers from having to spend 380 hours a year on admin, a government-backed study has found.

A new report commissioned by the Department for Education found educators have taken on greater numbers of safeguarding and SEND-related jobs since the pandemic.

It was also reported that teachers are receiving more messages from parents and carers “with unrealistic expectations of response times”, as one leader noted they read 250 emails a day.

The study, by CooperGibson research, found teachers working in both primaries and secondaries spent about two hours a day on admin outside of class. This equates to 380 hours across a school year.

‘Make support staff role attractive’

The research firm recommended “a curriculum support officer could undertake many tasks” – like photocopying, printing and organising trips – to ease the pressure on teachers.

“Many participants [in our study] reported that roles such as a curriculum support or reprographics officer had been lost.

“Apart from funding, an important consideration would be to make this role an attractive one professionally with, for example, a clear career structure. Admin roles in higher education provide clear career progression pathways to very senior roles.”

CooperGibson said the officers could be “like a laboratory or DT technician replicated in other subject areas”.

Admin tasks deemed “necessary but time consuming” included the reporting of safeguarding concerns. Teachers said the need for the job to be completed on the same day could “be challenging if they have, for example, duties, meetings or extra-curricular events to run”.

Leaders spend hours dealing with emails

They also noted there “was still the need for extensive curriculum planning documentation, and some uncertainty about what is required of schools” during Ofsted inspections.  

Periods used to complete performance management records were said to “not merit the time spent on them”, as staff reported having “two and three meetings and a lesson observation” – which have to be catalogued – across the year.

“As well as the stress of being observed, reported by some of the participants, the contribution of the process to, for example, improving practice or maintaining professional standards were queried.”

Senior leaders also stated that admin often included having to read and send scores of emails. One single-academy trust boss revealed “it can take two hours to clear” the 250 messages they receive a day.

Some of those who took part in the 34-school survey also observed “an increase in emails from parents and carers, often with an unrealistic expectation of response times since the pandemic”.

Support staff and more prep time needed

The report also said there had been an “increase in tasks associated with the rise in the number of pupils identified with SEND”.

“Since the pandemic, interviewees noted there had been a sharp growth in referrals for pupils experiencing poor emotional wellbeing and/or mental health. This in turn, meant an increase, in round-robin requests and meetings with parents and pupils, for example, which require recording.”

But those surveyed by CooperGibson struggled “to identify any unnecessary tasks”. Teachers felt most of the jobs “either fully, or in some part, needed teacher involvement”.

Tasks considered unnecessary for teachers to keep doing included photocopying, printing and classroom displays.

In addition to recruiting more curriculum support officers, CooperGibson recommended that “the time required for admin jobs should form part of any review of planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time at a national level”.

Teachers work ‘7 unnecessary hours a week’

It also said “senior leaders might seek to review flexible working practices in schools, such as grouping PPA time to allow teachers to work from home on one occasion during the week”.

“Although this would not directly address the specific time sensitive challenges of many of the administrative tasks described in this report, it might contribute to reducing the overall effect of the workload burden.”

This comes after a government report leaked in March laid bare the school workload crisis, with a quarter of teachers considering leaving within a year.

The survey of 11,000 teachers found two-thirds said they spent more than half of their working time on tasks other than teaching, rising to 77 per cent of secondary teachers.

Meanwhile, another government-commissioned study released on Thursday stated leaders and teachers estimated that, on average, they worked more than seven “unnecessary hours” a week. This was down from 8.75 hours five years ago.

Despite this, “persistent problems with workload” often related to “Ofsted inspections, teachers being required to play multiple roles and waiting times for health and social care referrals” were reported.

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  1. Julie Smith

    Support staff are being cut. Support staff do not get paid enough for the expertise that they have
    Support staff get the jobs that teachers do not want to do. Support staff have to deal with the knowledge at challenging children.
    Support staff need to be appreciated and respected.
    Support staff should be fully qualified, not just plucked from the kitchen staff or dinner supervisors or the nice kind Mum.

  2. I am a member of support staff in a school. In my opinion you will not fill extra support staff roles unless you pay people fairly for all the work they do. Support staff pay is frankly awful and I can fully appreciate why a lot are leaving to work in places like supermarkets where the hourly rate is higher.

  3. As a long time science tech I just left that role to become a teacher. The reasons are many, so I will give you the highlights.
    When pay increases occur only the teachers get them. All others don’t. Your cpd is sacrificed for teachers on the basis that there’s in needed. Despite contracts garentee s. Then being treated like second citizens and talked at then with as a support staff person. And lastly despite completing every performance management target each year for nearly a decade you pay doesn’t go up and if it does it doesn’t match inflation. Despite support staff getting paid the lowest. And lastly unlike the teachers who get the holidays off with pay support staff if taking the hols get the pay cut by up to 30% across the year. So I have left being a tech after 12 years and I’m sick of being treated as a non professional despite having a PhD in the subject, I’m sick of being treated like my opinion doesn’t matter being excluded from social gatherings despite being apart of the department predating many who where there. And lastly I hate the atmosphere of it’s not what you know nor how hard you work or how many skills the school gets under one wage it’s rearlly who you know if you want to get ahead. Which is disgusting as an academic environment some be meritocratic in promotions. I’ve worked with many many support staff over the years and nearly all had been treated the same. The teachers are god’s and everybody else serves them.

  4. I work as a member of support staff in a school and our paid working hours are just a few minutes longer than the children’s school day. Many of us do help out with admin tasks in unpaid time after school but it is frustrating that we can’t be employed to work after the children have left. We even have to do some of our own admin and general tasks e.g relating to paperwork or creating and maintaining resources for the children who we are employed to support. And on occasion training online. It’s supposed to be done during our working hours although it’s really not possible to safeguard and support the children with our nose in a folder or laptop. Of course, there are the displays, sticking, chopping, laminating, shredding…. Jobs that certainly don’t require the expertise of a trained teacher however there is no budget to pay any support staff another £10 to £12 per hour, (similar to supermarket pay), to relieve the teachers of these time consuming basic tasks.

  5. Steven Turner

    I am a qualified but retired teacher who now does a few hours here and there doing support work in school. Although I don’t need the cash and do it to help out. It is true that Support Workers are paid very poorly and can easily earn more elsewhere. They are often not treated as the valuable staff they are. Being a support worker in a school is not an unskilled role so why treat the staff as if it is?

  6. L Law

    I have worked as Reprographics officer for single academy trust for 10 years. I am now a union rep. I joined a union when I discovered that my school was underpaying the support staff. These underpayments started when the school was directly run by the local council. This issue was not looked at during the school’s TUPE. The school eventually offered 3 years’ back pay as a negotiated settlement, which we had to take, as employment tribunals will only offer 2 years back. We have signed NDOs and are not allowed to talk about this to our colleagues, including the teachers. Imagine if this underpayment situation (which affects some support staff who have been working there for 20+yrs) had affected the teachers…there would be national uproar, and a government backed fund to pay back all the monies owed….that’s how support staff know they are second class.
    If the DfE want schools to deliver a decent education, they need to pay support staff industry level money, and 100% of it, not the 80% support staff currently get. Otherwise perhaps if you are working as support staff, you need only pay 80% of all your bills! 80% of utility, council tax, rent, food. I don’t know any teacher using food banks; I can name 10 support staff regularly using them.
    As for training and career progression, it’s non existent for SS, so there is no point in wasting one’s time with reviews. Indeed it seems to me that the only people who can afford to be support staff are married women, with school age children, and a well paid husband… this is probably the only role available in the UK workforce that is based on inherent sexism (now the mines have closed).
    I am tired of proving I can do my job to receive no pay rise..Support staff STILL have not received a pay rise this year. And any pay rise we receive, take off 20
    %…as we are not paid any retention, nor for the holidays.
    If this was how the teachers were treated, there would be a national outrage, as there was in the 70s, when teachers were not paid through the holidays, before the state system started.
    Needless to say, I’m applying for QTS! Only the teaching staff get a living wage in academies. Pity the academies don’t offer their support staff QTS programmes, as Middlesex University do their support staff..even the librarians there are qualified teachers.