Overworked, underpaid and taken for granted - ATL survey of support staff members finds many feel overloaded with work

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Press release
13 February 2016 by ATL Media Office
Support staff are being expected to provide cover for classes and work longer hours, for little pay, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Over 1,750 support staff working in UK state-funded schools responded to the survey and over six-in-ten (64%) said they do not consider the work they do when acting as cover supervisor to be different to that done by supply teachers. Generally, the role of a cover supervisor is to supervise children's work but not teach.

Seventy-one per cent of support staff believe it is not possible to simply supervise a class when providing cover supervision without actually delivering classes.

A cover supervisor at a secondary school in Kent said: "In any given week I can cover up to 30 lessons plus two registrations a day. The work is exhausting. Pupils do not treat support staff with the same respect as teaching staff. We are teaching lessons, not delivering them. Our pay rate does not reflect our responsibility levels."

A teaching assistant in a primary in Warwickshire said: "I understand that budgets are tight in schools but that is no excuse for how support staff are treated. I cover teachers two days a week during which time I teach the class. The financial reward for doing this is barely noticeable in my wages. Workload is as big a problem for support staff as it is for teachers."

A cover supervisor in a secondary school in England said: "Too much is expected of cover supervisors. Assessing, marking and planning are not supposed to be undertaken but are regularly expected of cover supervisors who feel they cannot say no because it may not be seen favourably."

Support staff also reported they have to work over and above their contacted hours each week with 12% working more than seven extra hours a week and a third working more than four hours than contracted per week. And of those having to work extra hours a week, 75% said they do so because their workload demands it. Twenty-two per cent said they work extra hours as it is 'expected of them'.

Seventy-three per cent of respondents do not get paid for doing any extra hours of work.

A learning support assistant from an infant school in Hampshire said: "Having worked in education for many years the responsibilities linked to the role of the teaching assistant increase every year. Sadly the recognition for loyalty, experience and pay seem to do the opposite."

With support staff feeling they are already overworked, around a fifth (21.4%) of respondents said this is worsened by support staff redundancies made at their school in the last 12 months. Just over a quarter (26%) said the redundancies were compulsory.

Unsurprisingly, 61% said the support staff redundancies had been made because of financial shortages, with school budgets being ever-squeezed. Twenty-six per cent said redundancies had been made due to re-organisation at their school.

A technician in a secondary school in North Somerset said: "Support staff morale is at an all-time-low. People are stressed, overworked and under-appreciated, and yet more cuts are needed apparently."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: "Support staff are struggling under excessive workloads as much as teachers and this survey shows that, sadly, support staff feel over-utilised and under-valued.

"It is unacceptable that so many support staff are working longer hours than they are contracted for. Even more so, they are feel that have to work longer hours because their workload demands it.

"The Government needs to address workload issues for all education staff as we know that the hours worked, and the type and impact of some of that work, is becoming too much for them, resulting in stress and illness. It is driving experienced and valuable staff from the profession.

"This is why ATL has launched its work-life campaign 'It's about time' which aims to empower our members and colleagues to find ways to tackle the issue, to reduce hours, to reduce unnecessary workload and to give professionals the time and trust to make the maximum impact on pupils' learning."

The survey also found that support staff are struggling to get the training and continuing professional development (CPD) they need, with 41% saying their school does not regularly organise CPD for support staff. Forty-seven per cent said this was because of a lack of funds and 30% said it was due to lack of time.

The detailed survey findings can be seen here.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.
  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.
  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.