School Support Staff Exploited Due to Funding Shortages


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 our schools, as well as the continued exploitation and mismanagement of support staff who remain in post.

Unpaid Hours

Three quarters of respondents (74%) confirmed that they work additional un-contracted hours.

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

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

Of the 81% 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.


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

When asked if their workload is manageable within contracted hours, 17% said it is ‘never’ manageable. Strikingly, this is double the result for the same question (9%) in a poll of NEU members published in April 2018.


The vast majority of respondents noted the impact of the real-terms funding crisis. 85% confirmed that cuts are having a negative impact on their school. Just 4% disagreed with the statement.

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

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

Teaching on the cheap

59% 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 the question Do you consider the work you do when acting as cover supervisor to be identical to that done by supply teachers? with 76% saying yes.

‘We're cheap labour, it's easier to use us and give children continuity!’ – a teaching assistant in Hertfordshire

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.’

March 2019

School Leadership Today