Skip to main content

'Exploited' support staff increasingly covering teachers' roles, survey finds

Support staff are being used as 'cheap labour' to teach classes, warns union leader

News article image

Support staff are being used as 'cheap labour' to teach classes, warns union leader

Many teaching assistants and technicians are facing far higher workloads – and are increasingly expected to teach lessons – a survey has revealed.

The survey of 1,700 support staff members conducted by the NEU teaching union, reveals that more than half are carrying out tasks that were previously performed by teachers.

Sixty per cent of respondents said that the number of support staff had decreased in their school. This was placing increased pressure on the workload of remaining staff members.

And many said that their job was now almost identical to that of a teacher.

'This needs to stop'

Fifty-four per cent of respondents told the NEU that they were carrying out tasks such as data entry and marking pupils’ work, which had previously been the remit of teachers.

Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, said: “This survey shows the worrying use of support staff who are being over-worked and used as cheap labour to teach.

"With school budgets cut to the bone, it is easy to see why this is happening. Schools are woefully underfunded and struggling to make ends meet. But this needs to stop.

"Support staff are being exploited – and it is children’s education that suffers if they are not being taught by qualified teachers and supported adequately by the valuable support staff. Support staff need to be paid fairly for the work they do and for the hours they work.”

Teaching tasks

“Teaching is required every lesson, usually with some prep,” a cover supervisor in Rotherham told the union.

Another respondent provided a lengthy list of teaching tasks that learning support assistants were doing in her South London secondary. These included planning lessons, creating resources, contacting parents about pupils’ progress, and running curriculum clubs.

Almost half – 41 per cent – of respondents who covered classes for teachers said that the role almost always required an element of teaching. The majority – 75 per cent – considered their work to be identical to that of a teacher, despite being paid support-staff rates.

“The boundaries are blurred,” a lab technician in Leeds said.

A cover supervisor from Staffordshire put it even more bluntly: “I teach.”

Unpaid overtime

Recent data reveals that the numbers of members of support staff at secondary schools had declined by nearly 5,000 between 2015 and 2016. Between 2013 and 2016, they had fallen by almost 10,000.

By comparison, teacher numbers fell by 6,000 in that same three-year period.

Thirteen per cent of support staff now say that they regularly work more than seven extra hours every week, above their contracted hours: equivalent to one extra day. Almost two-thirds said that overtime was always unpaid.

A head of careers in a North London school said: “I sometimes take time in lieu, but it is never a true reflection of what I have done and continue to do at home.”

The survey results come as Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute and one of the world’s most widely quoted education academics, said that the rising number of teaching assistants in English classrooms was part of a “creeping amateurism” in schools.

He added that teaching assistants systematically have the lowest impact on students’ learning, and that the bulge in their numbers was “toxic”.

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and like Tes on Facebook


Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you