Unison: Redundancies forcing school support staff to fill the gaps

Over 70 per cent of school support staff are being forced to take on tasks that used to be performed by a colleague on more pay, as school funding cuts continue to bite, according to one of the UK’s largest trade unions.

In May Unison carried out a UK-wide survey of 12,120 school support staff, which found that 87 per cent said they had either already seen significant cuts to staff and resources in their workplace or had been warned by managers that cuts were in the pipeline.

More than 70 per cent of respondents to the Unison survey said they had had to take on tasks that were previously outside of their remit as a result, while 35 per cent said they had done this without sufficient training.

The findings come less than a week after education secretary Damian Hinds annouced that he wants to help school to “use their resources as effectively as possible,” through a toolkit of school ‘resource management’ strategies, in place of providing them with any additional funding.

The majority of respondents to Unison’s survey said they had been obliged to take on extra work because the person who would have done it previously had been made redundant.

In line with this, 76 per cent said their school had been subjected to staff restructuring, or that this was planned for the near future. Meanwhile, 38 per cent said they had experienced more than one staffing restructure in the past five years – raising questions over how well this strategy is working for schools.

Unison, head of education Jon Richards said: “School support staff who haven’t already lost their jobs are buckling under intolerable workloads and mounting stress levels.

“They play a vital role in keeping children safe and schools running smoothly, they shouldn’t be seen as surplus to requirements when money is tight.”

The pressure on support staff has been mounting for some time. In April Schools Week reported on a National Education Union (NEU) survey of over 1,700 support staff members, in which 54 per cent said they were carrying out tasks that used to be the remit of teachers, such as marking pupils’ work and entering data.

This was followed in April by another study from the NEU, which found that 78 per cent of teaching assistants, school administrators and other support staff were working overtime every week.

School support staff who haven’t already lost their jobs are buckling under intolerable workloads

Then in May, a survey of 238 school business leaders released by the Association of School and College Leaders found 77 per cent of respondents said support staff numbers has been cut in their schools over the last year, and  a survey of 4,500 school support staff carried out by the union GMB found that 45 per cent of those who were classroom-based said they had not received any training funded by their school in the last year.

The latest Unison survey included the views of teaching assistants, technicians, administrative staff, cover supervisors, facilities staff and in-house catering teams, and found that nearly half of the respondents said they did unpaid overtime on a regular basis.

The support staff surveyed mentioned having to work through their breaks to supervise children and teaching assistants in particular raised issues around being expected to teach, provide cover and perform jobs that higher level teaching assistants should do – without being paid for these additional responsibilities.

Overall, 83 per cent of respondents said they had experienced stress as a result of their workload in the past five years, with one in five (20 per cent) needing to take time off work.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teaching assistants are an integral part of the school workforce, supporting the 450,000 teachers in our classrooms. In fact, we have seen a 50,000 increase in teaching assistants since 2010.

“We are working closely with the profession, unions and Ofsted to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy for all staff, including teaching assistants, and have recently published a workload reduction toolkit which should benefit all staff in schools.”