Headteachers across the country say they cannot fill vital teaching assistant vacancies. Support staff are taking second jobs in supermarkets to survive because their wages are “just a joke”. Schools report that increasing numbers of teaching assistants are leaving because they will not be able to pay for high energy bills and afford food this winter. And with job ads often attracting no applications, heads fear they will be impossible to replace.
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They warn that this will seriously impact children in the classroom, especially those with special educational needs, and say it is a direct result of years of real-terms cuts to pay.
“We are struggling to recruit and retain good teaching assistants,” said one headteacher, who asked not to be named. “There are not enough people applying for the jobs, and those who are often don’t stay for long because they can’t afford to live on the wages.
“Many of our teaching assistants have to take on other jobs, in supermarkets or as carers, to make ends meet. It’s a real problem.”
Another head said: “Teaching assistant jobs are now some of the hardest to fill in our school. We’ve had adverts up for months with no applications at all. And it’s not just us – this is happening across the country.
“The pay. “The situation is desperate,” said one headteacher from a school in Lancashire. “We have had teaching assistants who have handed in their notice and said they will work in supermarkets because they can’t afford to live on what we are paying them.
“I had one lady in tears the other day saying she doesn’t know how she will pay her energy bills this winter. This person has worked in our school for 15 years and is an excellent teaching assistant. She loves her job, but she can’t afford to stay.”
Another head from a school in Bradford said: “I’ve got a teaching assistant doing two jobs – she comes into work with us during the day and then goes off to do a night shift at a local supermarket. She is exhausted but can’t afford to live on her salary from us.
“This is having a massive impact on the children in our school, particularly those with special educational needs who rely on support from teaching assistants. It’s not sustainable, and something needs to be done.”
The heads said they were doing all they could to support their teaching assistants, but the problem was “insurmountable” without a pay rise.
“We have had to cut back on other things just to ensure our teaching assistants are paid a decent wage,” said one headteacher. “But it’s not enough – they are still leaving us for other jobs.
“It’s a joke that teaching assistants are paid so little. They do an amazing job and deserve properly rewarded for it.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We recognise the vital role played by support staff in our schools, which is why we have protected their pay in real terms since 2010.
“We have also provided over £1.3 billion to help schools reduce costs, including a new funding formula which will increase the money available to support school staffing.”
But the heads said this was “not enough” and that teaching assistants were “vital” to running schools.
“The job they do is essential to the education of our children,” said one headteacher. “They deserve to be paid a fair wage for their work.”
What do you think should be done to support teaching assistants? Share your thoughts in the comments below.