Teaching assistants use own money to fund uniforms and trips to help struggling parents

Teaching assistants are dipping into their own pockets to help cash-strapped families buy school uniforms, fund trips and provide lunch money, according to a survey by UNISON published today (Friday).

Schools are also providing emergency supplies of groceries, with more than one in ten (12%) operating food banks for families.

The findings are based on responses from across the UK of more than 4,500 (4,549) teaching assistants from primary and secondary schools. They highlight how pressured, low-income families are turning to schools for basic support, says UNISON.

More than half (54%) of respondents said parents are increasingly in need of more help, while just under half (49%) reported pupils arriving at school hungry more often. Two in five (41%) said they were witnessing increasing levels of poverty.

The result is that teaching assistants are using their own money to provide extra help to those in need. More than a fifth (22%) had bought uniforms, a similar proportion (23%) PE kits, while 20% had helped pupils with lunch money.

Nearly one in five (17%) had even provided cash so children could go on school trip, according to the findings.

The acts of kindness come as teaching assistants themselves are feeling the financial squeeze, says UNISON. More than three quarters (77%) of schools are making cutbacks, especially over the last couple of years, and more than half (52%) are axing school support staff jobs.

Seven in (70%) of respondents said the number of support staff had decreased despite the number of children they were responsible for increasing (69%). The result is high stress levels (70%) and reduced morale (68%), with more than half (56%) considering leaving their jobs.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It’s shocking that some parents are so desperate they’re turning to teaching assistants and schools for help.

“This demonstrates that support workers are not just essential in the classroom. Their role now extends to acting as benefactors, so pupils and their families don’t go without, despite many not earning much more than the struggling parents themselves.

“They go above and beyond their job descriptions day in day out. Yet the government fails to recognise their worth by paying them a decent wage or acknowledging their vital contribution to children’s education.

“Perversely, recently leaked documents suggest the government is questioning the role of teaching assistants. They should be getting behind teaching assistants, just as they have teachers and school leaders.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.
– The survey of 4,549 teaching assistants who belong to UNISON was carried out by the union in consultation with True Vision Productions and the University of Cambridge. The survey was conducted in July 2019.
– The average teaching assistant working full-time earns approximately £15,975 a year.

Media contacts:
Garfield Myrie T: 0207 121 5546 M: 07432 741 565 E: g.myrie@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes T: 0207 121 5255 M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk