From education to employment

Teaching assistants taking second jobs or leaving to work in better paid roles

teacher teaching children class

Teaching assistants (TAs) in England are taking second jobs to supplement their income during the cost-of-living crisis, according to a new report of teachers and school leaders.

Findings within NFER’s report, Cost-of-living crisis: Impact on schools – School staff, show that the vast majority of senior leaders – at 82 per cent in special schools, 75 per cent in primaries and 72 per cent in secondaries – are reporting some of their TAs taking up additional employment.

Some schools also highlighted how the crisis is leading TAs to quit in favour of better paid jobs in other sectors (such as roles in hospitality and retail) that offer either increased pay or more working hours.

Cost saving measures taken by schools in response to cost-of-living increases have only intensified the workload pressures on staff and made retention more challenging.

Furthermore, cost-of-living increases have compounded pressures on school budgets, limiting the salaries schools are able to offer potential TAs and support staff at a time when staff are having to contend with pressure on their personal finances. For example, 45 per cent of secondary and special schools and 34 per cent of primary schools report that low salaries are the single biggest barrier to recruiting TAs.

In the study, conducted in collaboration with ASK Research and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, NFER recently asked more than 2,500 senior leaders and teachers in mainstream schools, and more than 100 in special schools in England, a series of questions to understand the impacts of cost-of-living pressures on schools*.

NFER Research Director and report co-author, Jenna Julius, said: 

“The cost-of-living pressures are intensifying existing recruitment and retention challenges. Staff and potential applicants are more likely to look for higher paying and less pressurised jobs outside the sector while budget pressures are limiting the salaries which schools can afford.

“We welcome the Government’s plans to refresh the current teacher recruitment strategy and our previous NFER research has outlined the urgent need for this. Our report published today further highlights the importance of revisiting this strategy and indeed extending its scope.

“A new long-term workforce strategy, including teaching assistants, school support staff and tutors, alongside teachers and leaders, is needed. For wider support staff, this should include looking at whether pay is competitive enough to attract and retain sufficient high-quality staff.”

Nuffield Foundation Programme Head, Ruth Maisey said:

“Teaching assistants play a critical role within schools, running intervention groups to improve children’s outcomes and supporting teachers with a heavy workload. It’s vital for pupils and teaching staff alike that a schools’ workforce strategy incorporates teaching assistants and support staff, as well as teachers and leaders.”

Further key findings from the report show:

  • Less than half of teachers can afford to pay an unexpected expense outright. Teachers are making similar lifestyle and spending changes to the wider British population in response to cost-of-living pressures on their finances.
  • Cost-of-living pressures have amplified existing recruitment and retention challenges in schools.
  • The overwhelming majority of schools are struggling to recruit TAs and other support staff. Among schools who had to recruit staff into these roles over the last 12-months, 90 per cent of special schools, 80 per cent of primaries and 75 per cent of secondaries report difficulties recruiting other support staff. Large numbers of TA and other support staff vacancies remained vacant for more than two months, especially among special schools**.
  • Among the senior leaders who recruited teaching staff in the last 12-months, nearly all (88 per cent) secondary schools report that teacher recruitment was difficult over the last year. Only a fifth of secondary schools who tried to recruit teachers managed to fill their vacancies within two months.
  • A substantial proportion of primary and special school senior leaders also reported facing difficulties recruiting teachers, albeit lower than in the secondary sector (59 per cent of primary and 77 per cent of special senior leaders).
  • Half of schools across all settings are struggling to recruit teachers with the required specialist skills and experience. Similarly, around three-quarters of schools are unable to recruit TAs with the required specialist skills and expertise.

The report makes the following key recommendation:

The Government should prioritise the refresh of the teacher recruitment and retention strategy and extend its scope. A wider education workforce strategy is needed that has a long-term focus, and includes teaching assistants, school support staff and tutors as well as teachers and leaders. For wider support staff, this should include looking at whether pay is competitive enough to attract and retain sufficient high-quality staff.

This paper looks at the impact of the cost-of-living on school workforce. It is the final in a series of three cost-of-living reports that have been published in September. The first looked at the impact on pupils and families and the second focused on the impact on school provision resulting from cost-of-living pressures.

Sector Response:

Julie McCulloch, Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“School leaders are fully aware of how valuable teaching assistants are. They provide vital support to teachers in the classroom, as well as to pupils who require additional help. As this report makes clear, the problem is that school budgets are under huge pressure and it is very difficult to afford the costs of paying for teaching assistants. When ASCL surveyed more than 700 school and college leaders last year, 92% of respondents reported difficulties in recruiting support staff. As worrying as this figure is, it is simply a result of education not being adequately resourced to the extent that teaching assistants can easily earn more money elsewhere. The problem is likely to have only got worse in the last year as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.

“There is a crisis of recruitment and retention across the education sector and support staff are just one part of this. Schools need to be given funding to enable them to pay all members of staff appropriately for their work. Until this happens, education will continue to lose leaders, teachers and support staff to other industries.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Working as support staff in schools is becoming financially unviable, as this report clearly shows.

“Support staff play a vital role in schools. The fact that they are leaving for other work that pays more is a testament to the disregard that Government holds both for support staff and the education of children and young people. Low pay and the cost-of-living crisis are taking a heavy toll on the profession, with members resorting to the use of food banks or heavily economising on food, cutting back on heating bills and accessing Universal Credit.

“The cumulative effect is that, for the first time ever, schools are now finding it difficult – if not impossible – to fill vacancies amongst their support staff cohort. This has a knock-on effect on pupils, especially those with SEND who need support and continuity on a day-to-day basis.

“Until such time as pay and workload across the whole education profession is addressed, the recruitment and retention crisis that is gripping our schools and colleges will persist. Many talented and committed people will be lost to the profession and the education of children and young people will suffer as a result.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“Teaching Assistants do an incredible job – they are the unsung heroes of the education system. They’re the ones providing the support for vulnerable children that is so vital.

“Without TAs schools are not able to do the things they need to help catch up from Covid, for example, or to support children with SEN – and there’s a knock-on impact for the whole classroom if teachers’ time is taken up with things they usually rely on TAs to do.

“We have heard from our members that TAs are having to take second jobs, or even leave their jobs in schools because they know they can be paid more in the local supermarket. Schools want to be able to pay TAs what they are truly worth, but they just don’t have the funding to do so. It’s a real bind and school leaders are very concerned about it.”

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