Cuts to school support staff could leave vulnerable children at risk, says UNISON

School support staff regularly go home worried about pupils’ welfare, safety and emotional state after discussing issues such as grooming, gangs, domestic violence, bullying, loneliness, and sexual abuse with them, according to a survey released by UNISON today (Friday).

The research suggests that across Scotland a third (33%) of school support staff involved in children’s welfare go home worried every day having spoken to pupils about the issues that trouble them both inside and outside of school.

Almost nine in ten (86%) of support staff told UNISON they’d gone home worried about pupils after talking to them. Issues of concern can range from parents splitting up, family bereavement, self-harm, and sibling rivalry, to family members falling ill, the misuse of alcohol or drugs at home, and having a parent in prison.

The survey, of more than 3,000 school support staff – across the UK – involved in children’s welfare (including teaching assistants, learning mentors and welfare officers) is released to coincide with Stars in our schools day, UNISON’s annual celebration of non-teaching staff and the valuable work they do.

Support staff responding to the survey said that they felt the contributions they made in school helped pupils to feel safer (78%), and supported their learning in the classroom (93%). Three in five (64%) also said they thought their work helped pupils feel less isolated, and two fifths (41%) that it improved their attendance.

Their work with children also meant improved behaviour in the classroom – cited by 80% of support staff who responded – and decreased workloads for teachers (72%).

Yet, despite the obvious benefits that support staff involved in children’s welfare can bring to distressed pupils and the smooth running of schools, a over a quarter (27%) reported that their schools had made cuts to staff carrying out pastoral roles over the past year.

Cutbacks to other parts of public services are also being felt in schools. As they try to support pupil welfare, support staff said they had referred cases to social services mental health services, and the police. But support had also noticed a decrease in the availability of support services beyond school.

Despite the range and depth of issues experienced by pupils, almost two thirds (64%) of the school support staff who responded said they didn’t have the time, space or privacy to talk to children. This is despite regularly working up unpaid hours every week.

Kay Sillars, UNISON Scotland policy officer, said: “School support staff are true stars in our schools, they do a lot more than they sometimes get the credit for. They support children through the toughest of times, so it’s only fair we celebrate their contribution.

“Support staff clearly have positive influence on children’s and young people’s lives. It’s no surprise that they are a trusted adults that pupils can talk to in confidence.

“Schools simply couldn’t run smoothly, and the achievements of pupils would be significantly reduced, without the efforts of these dedicated staff.

“Having the right type of emotional support in place at the right time ensures problems don’t escalate into crises. But cuts pose a huge risk to schools and pupils. The government must properly fund schools so there’s always the time and space for children to feel listened to and helped.”

Up and down the country today, schools will hold Stars in our schools events including breakfasts, award ceremonies, and afternoon teas to celebrate the invaluable work of their support staff.

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.
•    UNISON represents over 250,000 school support staff in the UK – caretakers, janitors, cleaners, school cooks, catering assistants, lunchtime supervisors, administrative and finance staff, data managers, examinations staff, school business managers, teaching assistants, classroom assistants, cover supervisors, nursery nurses, library assistants, librarians, network managers, ICT technicians, food technicians, science technicians, design and technology technicians, attendance officers, family support advisers, learning mentors, welfare officers, and school crossing patrol officers.

•UNISON Scotland research on school support staff released in january 2017 can be read here

All per cent figures in this release are Scotland based

Further Scottish Government research that backs up UNISON findings can be read here:

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