I have always been a very strong advocate of the support staff in our school, they do a brilliant job, and the school would not function without them.
However, since the start of the academic year in 2015 we have seen a 28% reduction in the number of support staff in school. The reduction has been brought about by ‘natural wastage’ – not replacing people as they leave or retire. The majority of staff reductions are Teaching Assistants, some are administrative staff, and we have ‘got around’ the skill gaps left by handing out extra responsibilities to existing staff.
Is this wise I can hear you ask – well the answer is that the reductions were, and are, a necessity because of the budget constraints. We all know that more and more schools are facing deficits, and that salaries are the major costs in schools. We must have enough teachers to ‘teach’ our students, that is a given, the only other area to make sizeable cuts was the support staff team.
The financial conversation can wait until another time. What concerns me is that while I am trying to balance a budget the rates of absenteeism in the support staff is rising. I can appreciate that we might just be going through a ‘bad patch’, but when the Office for National Statistics is claiming that the number of sick days taken by employees is falling (although they do warn that many employees go into work when ill because of fear of losing their jobs), why is the rate in school rising?
My theories as to our levels of support staff sickness are related to how hard people are working. We are all aware of stress related illnesses for teaching staff and I am seeing an increasing number of support staff also stressed out because of the workload. People are working really hard, they get tired and they get run down – as a Teaching Assistant working in close proximity to students all day long – you then pick up all the bugs that are going! Fewer actual people is equating to less time to talk, share ideas and good practice, even have a laugh (the things that make the job worthwhile and enjoyable) and are good ways of sharing the problem and de-stressing.
I would hate anyone to think that we are not addressing stress, mental welfare or just plain old illness correctly. We are very active in the support of our non-teaching staff and they are highly valued. My problem is, that if a correlation between absence and staff levels exists, I should employ some additional staff to ease the burden on the workforce and the supply budget. However, I’m not sure I can prove that premise, and I do not have the financial resources anyway. Yep – I’m getting a bit stressed as well!