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School staff buckling under intolerable workloads and mounting stress, says UNISON

Drastic cuts, staff restructuring and rocketing stress levels are becoming the norm in UK schools, according to a survey of school support staff published today (4 Sep) by UNISON.

The findings – summarised in the report Lessons in Austerity – highlight the funding crisis that is having such a devastating effect on workloads and morale as pupils return to classrooms after the summer, says UNISON.

The 12,120 school employees who completed the survey include teaching assistants, technicians, caterers and office staff. Almost nine in ten (87%) said that cutbacks in their schools have had a noticeable effect.

The negative effect of the cuts on staff workloads and morale was evident in the UNISON survey responses. More than 70% said they were carrying out duties that should be performed by someone at a higher level, and 35% that they were doing tasks without sufficient training.  

School employees reported feeling overwhelmed and anxious by the increased demands being made of them. More than four in five (83%) said they have experienced stress as a result of their workload in the past five years, with one in five (20%) having needed to take time off sick as a result.

The tendency for schools to embark on costly and time-consuming staff restructuring was highlighted by the report. Three quarters (76%) of staff said their school had undergone restructuring, or that it was planned soon.

More than a third (38%) of respondents said there had been more than one restructure in their school in the past five years, which UNISON says casts doubt on the efficiency of the initiatives.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “School support staff who haven’t already lost their jobs are buckling under intolerable workloads and mounting stress levels.

“They play a vital role in keeping children safe and schools running smoothly, they shouldn’t be seen as surplus to requirements when money is tight.”

Lessons in Austerity: A UNISON survey of school support staff is available here.

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