Support staff struggling with increasing workloads, says NEU survey

A recent NEU survey has revealed the extent to which teaching assistants, school administrators and other support staff are having to work overtime to manage growing workloads

Teaching assistants, school administrators and other support staff are having to work overtime to cope with the increasing workload as schools cut staffing to cope with budget cuts, according to a National Education Union survey released by the ATL section of the union at its annual conference in Liverpool.

The survey of over 1,700 teaching assistants, cover supervisors, administrators and lab technicians revealed that nearly eight in ten (78%) are regularly doing overtime every week, with 73% blaming their workload. A further 20% said their school expected them to do overtime, despite 60% saying their school does not pay them for extra hours worked.

One third (32%) work more than two days extra a month, while 13% work a minimum of an extra seven hours a week, equal to a day a week, over their contracted hours. A third (33%) rarely or never take their full lunch break and 40% rarely or never take a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Support staff are feeling the brunt of school cuts as schools struggle to make ends meet. Many are being made redundant, and those remaining are being expected to do more for the same pay. Not only is this blatantly unfair, it is also putting support staff under considerable pressure and making many ill. If the Government fails to find any more money for schools, children will start suffering as more staff go off sick with stress.”

A special support assistant (SSA) from West Sussex said: “I catch up on work emails at home as there is no opportunity at work, unless I stay late.”

Many members said their statutory 20-minute lunch break is often cut short by activities such as SEN supervision with a child, detentions, first aid duty, running a lunchtime club, lunch duty, running a prayer space or supervising a school trip.

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A higher level teaching assistant (HTLA) in York said: “I work as a midday supervisory assistant at lunchtime so don’t often get the break I am entitled to. The most I get is 10 minutes if I am lucky. I am in school at 6.45am each morning.”

A learning support assistant (LSA) in Rochdale said they spend their lunchtime “trying to mark, prepare for the afternoon’s cover or running a lunch time library club: in theory, all the above is my choice, in practice, very necessary.”

Nearly one third of respondents (32%) said their workload was only manageable sometimes and 8% said they could never manage their workload. So it is unsurprising that nearly a quarter (24%) rarely mange to have a good work-life balance.

A teaching assistant (TA) in Staffordshire talked about being “too tired and mentally drained to go out and socialise.”

A PSHE (personal, social, and health education) and careers coordinator in Buckinghamshire, who regularly works over seven hours a week, said: “It is getting harder all the time and now my family are resentful of the time I spend working instead of attending to my partner and children”.

Many respondents said that switching-off is an issue. A teaching assistant from Bolton, who works nearly two extra days over his normal hours, said: “It’s being able to switch-off that can be hard. In the past few years my mental health has been severely affected, impacting on my home life”.

A nursery nurse in Hertfordshire said: “Support staff in my school are very disillusioned and morale is very low”.

Sixty per cent of respondents said the number of support staff has fallen in their school in the past year.

In secondary schools the number of support staff declined by nearly five thousand between 2015 and 2016 and by almost ten thousand compared to 2013, while teacher numbers have fallen by six thousand since 2013.

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