Headteachers across the country say they cannot fill vital vacancies for teaching assistants and support staff taking second jobs in supermarkets to survive because their salaries are “not just a joke”.
Schools are reporting a growing number of teaching assistants are leaving because they won’t be able to pay high energy bills and feed themselves this winter. And since job offers often do not attract any applications, officials fear that it will be impossible to replace them. They warn this will have a serious impact on children in the classroom, especially those with special educational needs, and will make it increasingly difficult for teachers to concentrate on teaching.
Sam Browne, principal at Radnage Church of England Primary School in Buckinghamshire, said one of its most qualified childminders quit a week ago in tears because she loved her job but was not earning enough to handle.
“She has a child in nursery and by the time she has paid the childcare costs she is earning £10 a day,” he said. “It was difficult before, but now she can’t survive.”
He added: “The pay for teaching assistants and support staff is just a joke.”
Chiefs say they will struggle to fund the £1,925 pay rise for support staff offered by local authorities with no extra money for schools at the start of the summer. But they also argue that this does not go far enough.
Long Furlong Primary School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, has been advertising for over a year for a TA to provide one-on-one support for a vulnerable child with special needs. They have two similar vacancies and are in their fifth round of advertising.
Carol Dunne, the school’s principal, said: ‘I have just re-posted the advert on social media, alongside an advert for the local Aldi which pays £11.40 an hour. Our position pays £10 per hour. They will therefore work more in a supermarket. Dunne added that a good candidate retired recently when she realized she would be “worse off working in school than on benefits.”
Claire Pegler, a full-time assistant at a primary school in Gloucestershire, currently works evenings and weekends in a supermarket to keep her head above water. She told the Observer: “I’m on the edge of the abyss and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to quit school, but I wonder if I’ll be better off working full time at the supermarket.
Two of Pegler’s TA colleagues at school are interviewing next week for extra work at a supermarket. Her school has been advertising for teaching assistants since April last year and recently hired two apprentices as they had no applications. “I love my job, but I understand why people don’t apply,” Pegler said. “Unless you have a partner who supports you with a good salary, the salary is unsustainable.”
Steve Howell, headmaster of City of Birmingham School, a student guidance unit for pupils aged 5 to 16, said: ‘Five years ago we advertised for two technical assistant positions and got 150 candidates. Now you are lucky to have three or four. We are currently releasing 10 ATs and there is very little interest.
Most Howell students have behavioral needs and are “disaffected and disengaged from school” when they enroll. Howell employs an above average number of teaching assistants to support the children and says they are “the lifeblood of the school”.
“They are often the people children turn to when they are angry or upset,” he explained. “They defuse behavioral issues, so teachers can keep teaching.”
Along with being unable to recruit, Howell says hanging on to teaching assistants is a “huge problem.” “This is the first time in 10 years of school leadership that support staff have said they simply can’t afford to continue doing their job. Working in a store earns you more,” he said.
Mike Short, education manager at union Unison, said support staff were leaving schools “in droves” due to “chronic low pay”.
He said: ‘Dedicated and experienced workers cannot drive the money up as household bills soar. And schools cannot recruit new staff, which is a disaster for children’s education.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We are grateful for the work of all support staff in education, and we recognize that schools – as well as society at large – face pressures financial.”
She added “it is up to the schools to set the salaries of their support staff”, but said the government was “increasing core funding for schools by £4billion this year, as well as capping their school bills. ‘energy”.