Schools face exodus of support staff over workload stress, says UNISON survey

Typical classroom scene where an audience of school children

More than half (52%) of school support staff across the UK have experienced stress, anxiety or depression as they struggle to cope with their workloads, according to a new survey published today (Tuesday) by UNISON.

Two-fifths (41.5%) of those who took part in the survey said they had difficulty in completing their work, and more than one in eight (13.4%) said they found it impossible to manage all that was being asked of them.

UNISON believes these findings highlight a crisis in health and well-being engulfing schools, which could lead to a mass exodus of hardworking, dedicated staff unless urgent action is taken by the government.

Almost half of support staff (47%) said they are considering leaving their jobs, citing issues like low pay, stress and huge workloads.

Many said it was difficult to talk about the pressures of their jobs, with two-fifths (40%) saying they felt unable to report concerns about the size of their workload to managers.

Respondents to the survey reported instances of teaching assistants regularly taking on extra work because schools were persistently understaffed. One said: “Staff cuts are at a dangerous level. People are off sick due to stress because there aren’t enough staff. Teaching assistants are taking on teaching roles on a regular basis.”

Another said: “Classrooms are strained – every single teaching assistant is doing far more than they are paid for. They are covering classes constantly with no support – it is making people depressed.”

UNISON’s head of education Jon Richards said: “It’s shocking that more than half the UK’s school support staff are now experiencing stress, anxiety or depression because they are being given way too much to do. These are dedicated professionals, but with too few of them employed for the amount of work that has to be done, schools are increasingly relying on the goodwill of staff.

“Teaching assistants are putting in nearly four hours of unpaid overtime each week, and with increasing cuts in school support staff numbers, the situation can only get worse.

“With almost half of school support staff considering leaving their jobs due to low pay, stress and workload, there’s a danger that if the government doesn’t buck up its ideas soon, parents will start to notice the impact in the classroom.”

UNISON is calling on the government to establish a national initiative with unions and employers to come up with recommendations for schools to reduce workload pressure on support staff.

UNISON is also urging the government to commission an independent study into the effect that school funding changes are having upon the attainment of pupils and on the health and well-being of staff.

Notes to editors:
The survey, conducted in March and April of this year, was based on responses from 14,514 staff across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. UNISON represents more than a quarter of a million support staff in schools, 150,000 of whom are teaching assistants.

A summary of the survey findings is available here

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