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One In Five Teaching Assistant Posts Unfilled As Research Reveals School Staff Crisis

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Pupils are denied an inclusive education while Ministers bury their heads in the sand, GMB Union warns

Schools face a staggering staff crisis with one in five teaching assistant (TA) posts unfilled, shortages, new figures show. 

A massive 18 per cent of TA posts in local authority-maintained schools are unfilled, according to those councils that tracked vacancies.  

GMB, a union representing more than 100,000 school support staff, obtained the records through Freedom of Information requests to all local authorities with responsibility for education in England.  

The East Riding of Yorkshire reported a vacancy rate of 19 per cent and Luton reported a vacancy rate of 22 per cent.  

Derbyshire reported the highest vacancy rate with 27 per cent of posts unfilled. However, the council said that this figure may be artificially high as schools were not obliged to remove vacancies from its system. 

The average vacancy rate was 18 per cent across the local authorities that provided information. Stockport council also said that schools experienced a 19 per cent turnover rate for teaching assistants in 2022/23. [1] 

The vast majority of local authorities said that did not monitor teaching assistant vacancy rates. The Department for Education requires schools to report teacher vacancy rates each year, but this requirement does not apply to support staff roles. [2] 

Recruitment challenges in schools have reached a critical point due to low pay, GMB warned. In September, the Low Pay Commission reclassified teaching assistants and other support staff roles as ‘low-paying occupations’ for the first time. Teaching assistants were paid £15,476 on average last year, according to the ONS. [3] 

NFER warned in September that ‘the overwhelming majority of schools’ are ‘struggling to recruit TAs and other support staff. Large numbers of TA and other support staff vacancies remained vacant for more than two months, especially among special schools.’ [4] 

Stacey Booth, GMB National Officer, said: 

“Pupils are denied an inclusive education while Ministers bury their heads in the sand. 

“The Department for Education is ignoring the problem. Workforce planning should be driven by pupils’ needs, but these shocking figures show that the low-paid women who make up the majority of the workforce are being overlooked.  

“Teacher shortages might get the headlines but schools face serious recruitment challenges across the board. 

“We are calling on Gillian Keegan to meet with GMB, reinstate the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, and fund the decent pay rates that our members deserve.”  

[1] Following Freedom of Information requests to all 153 local authorities with responsibility for education in England, the following authorities were able to provide data: 

LA Date Vacancies (hc) Vacancies (FTE) Vacancy rate (%) Turnover rate (%) Notes 
Gateshead 30-Jan-24 21 18.4 2.36    
Hackney 29-Jan-24 199  16.55  Hackney did not provide a total for current employment. The vacancy rate was calculated on the basis of 1003 filled posts (as declared in LA maintained schools in the November 2022 workforce census, the last date for which figures are available) plus 199 vacancies. 
Newcastle 26-Jan-24 34  4.56    
Rotherham Sep-23  7.42 2.87    
East Riding of Yorkshire 12-Jan-24 330  19    
Stockport 01-Sep-23    19.19   
Luton 11-Jan-24 372 332.45 21.85    
Redcar and Cleveland Jan-24  The LA maintains two primary schools and neither currently have vacancies. 
Derbyshire 31-Dec-23 1,037 1036.09 27  The figures are based on a system where it is not mandatory 
for vacancies to be closed, therefore, there could be less vacancies than 
reported above.’ 
Wirral 07-Jan-24 38  4.65    
City of London 01-Jan-24  ‘The Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD), which is manged by the CoL, does not have teaching assistant roles that could be treated as consistent with the Department for Education’s Workforce Census definition (ie. inclusive of HLTAs).’ 


‘Note that support staff, non-teaching school leaders, teaching assistant and advisory teacher are included in the Post code set but schools do not need to provide information about any vacancies for these posts. Information is only required for vacant teacher posts in the code set: executive head, head teacher, deputy head, assistant head, classroom teacher and leading practitioner.’ 

Department for Education, School workforce census guide 2023 Guide for schools including academies within a Multi Academy Trust, July 2023, page 81, here.  

[3] Low Pay Commission, The LPC has updated its definitions of ‘low-paying sectors,’ 11 September 2023, here. 

[4] National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), Cost-of-living crisis: Impact on schools – school staff, September 2023, page 14, here.

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