Teaching assistants use their own money to help struggling parents, says union

By agency reporter
September 9, 2019

Teaching assistants are dipping into their own pockets to help cash-strapped families buy school uniforms, fund trips and provide lunch money, according to a survey by UNISON.

Schools are also providing emergency supplies of groceries, with more than one in ten (12 per cent) operating food banks for families.

The findings are based on responses from 4,549 teaching assistants across the UK in primary and secondary schools. They highlight how pressured, low-income families are turning to schools for basic support, says UNISON.

More than half (54 per cent) of respondents said parents are increasingly in need of more help, while just under half (49 per cent) reported pupils arriving at school hungry more often. Two in five (41 per cent) said they were witnessing increasing levels of poverty.

The result is that teaching assistants are using their own money to provide extra help to those in need. More than a fifth (22 per cent) had bought uniforms, a similar proportion (23 per cent) PE kits, while 20 per cent had helped pupils with lunch money.

Nearly one in five (17 per cent) had even provided cash so children could go on school trip, according to the findings.

The acts of kindness come as teaching assistants themselves are feeling the financial squeeze, says UNISON. More than three quarters (77 per cent) of schools are making cutbacks, especially over the last couple of years, and more than half (52 per cent) are axing school support staff jobs.

Seven in  ten (70 per cent) respondents said the number of support staff had decreased despite the number of children they were responsible for increasing (69 per cent). The result is high stress levels (70 per cent) and reduced morale (68 per cent), with more than half (56 per cent) considering leaving their jobs.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It’s shocking that some parents are so desperate they’re turning to teaching assistants and schools for help.

“This demonstrates that support workers are not just essential in the classroom. Their role now extends to acting as benefactors, so pupils and their families don’t go without, despite many not earning much more than the struggling parents themselves.

“They go above and beyond their job descriptions day in day out. Yet the government fails to recognise their worth by paying them a decent wage or acknowledging their vital contribution to children’s education.

“Perversely, recently leaked documents suggest the government is questioning the role of teaching assistants. They should be getting behind teaching assistants, just as they have teachers and school leaders.”

The average teaching assistant working full-time earns approximately £15,975 a year.

The survey of 4,549 teaching assistants who belong to UNISON was carried out by the union in consultation with True Vision Productions and the University of Cambridge in July 2019.

* UNISON https://www.unison.org.uk/

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