Survey finds widespread funding and workload pressures on school support staff

By agency reporter
March 4, 2019

The National Education Union’s largest ever survey of support staff in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland shows members are struggling to cope with real-terms funding cuts and the consequent additional pressures on workload.

The responses paint a stark picture of diminishing numbers of support staff, teachers and resources in schools, as well as the continued exploitation and mismanagement of support staff who remain in post.

Unpaid hours

Three quarters of respondents (74 per cent) confirmed that they work additional uncontracted hours.

Two thirds (65 per cent) of those working additional hours said they are never paid or otherwise compensated for this additional work.  Only 15 per cent were able to say that they are regularly reimbursed for additional work.

Of those who work unpaid additional hours, a great majority (82 per cent) say they do so because workload demands it and a significant number (28 per cent) say they do so due to cuts in support staff numbers at their school.

Of the 81 per cent who stated they are not paid for their lunch break, just one third of that number always got the full break to which they are entitled. Another third, however, said they either “rarely” or “never” got a full break.

A teaching assistant in St Helen's said "I need to work over my contracted hours so I can complete the work that I am expected to do.”

And a Higher Level Teaching Assistant from Buckinghamshire stated that "Too much needs to be done. I use my lunch-time, come in before work and stay after my hours. I also do planning and preparation at weekends."


Of those who responded to the survey, 69 per cent confirmed that their workload has increased in the past year.

When asked if their workload is manageable within contracted hours, 17 per cent said it is “never” manageable. Strikingly, this is double the result for the same question (nine per cent) in a poll of NEU members published in April 2018.

A learning mentor in Bolton told us, "I often take work home at weekends and in the holidays, thus reducing my own family time.”

"Despite working conscientiously, I am always ‘chasing the wind’", said an IT manager/technician in Derbyshire.

Staffing Numbers

The majority of respondents (59 per cent) confirmed that the number of support roles at their school has reduced since last year. Just one third of schools (33 per cent) have either held on to the same staffing levels as 2018 or increased them.

A learning support assistant in County Durham said, “We face huge budget cuts and probably redundancies by the end of the year.”

An administrator in Essex wrote, "As staff have left, no others have been taken on, work is not getting done – which is affecting pupils, and staff stress levels are high, forcing staff to leave.”


The vast majority of respondents noted the impact of the real-terms funding crisis: 85 per cent confirmed that cuts are having a negative impact on their school. Just four per cent disagreed with the statement.

A technician in Derbyshire detailed the situation at his workplace: "Some parts of the school in long term state of [dis]repair. Not enough TAs/SEN staff to provide proper support to students with additional needs.”

A cover supervisor in Essex told us there are "Broken chairs and desks for teachers and students.”

An overwhelming 99 per cent agreed that the NEU should continue to campaign on this issue, including via the School Cuts website and by developing alliances with parents.

'Teaching on the cheap?'

  • 59 per cent of respondents confirmed that, at their school, support staff are expected to do work that should properly be undertaken by teachers.
  • There was also a strong response to this question:
  • "I teach Maths, English and any other subject across throughout the school." – a Higher Level Teaching Assistant in north London.
  • “We're cheap labour, it's easier to use us and give children continuity!” – a teaching assistant in Hertfordshire.
  • Only half (53 per cent) of support staff receive non-statutory training, and most (57 per cent) say that it is not what they need.
  • A teaching assistant in Somerset wrote, "I can’t remember the last time I did any role-specific training." And another in North Yorkshire: "Support staff rarely/never get CPD that is bespoke or meets my needs and wishes. Attendance at an externally delivered course is impossible. No funding allocated to CPD for support staff."

Reacting to the findings, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Workload and funding are two factors which conspire to make lives miserable for so many people working in schools. The crises are widely recognised by the entire school community, as survey upon survey shows.

“Unpaid hours are not just widespread, but normalised. The majority of support staff are made to do the work of teachers. They are seen as the cheap option. And as the cuts bite, the numbers of support staff become fewer in the majority of schools. This is a deplorable situation.

“The enthusiasm expressed by respondents for our campaign against school cuts is not surprising. Support staff know, just as parents, teachers and school leaders know that it is a terrible blight on the school system as a whole. We will continue to press the case with Government.”

The term 'support staff' covers teaching assistants, technicians, librarians, administrators, exam officers, catering staff, cleaners and pastoral.

UK-wide there are more than 1.1 million people who work in a support capacity in state schools.

* National Education Union


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