Schools accused of exploiting apprenticeships for cheap labour

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Schools are advertising teaching assistant apprentice jobs at just £3.50 an hour, according to new analysis.

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Most teaching assistant apprentices are being paid at the lowest legal minimum and in some cases it is not clear if they are receiving any training

A study of 190 apprenticeship vacancies by GMB, the union for teaching assistants, has warned that 75 per cent of them are advertised at the legal minimum of £3.50 an hour, way below the average apprentice rate.

The average wage offered across all vacancies was just £3.81, the research said.

According to GMB, teaching assistants are being paid 43 per cent below the average hourly rate for Level 2 and Level 3 apprentices, who receive a median wage of £6.70 an hour.

The minimum £3.50 an hour rate applies to apprentices under the age of 18 or those in the first year of their scheme, and represents less than half the over-25 national minimum wage of £7.50 an hour.

The GMB analysis of teaching assistant apprenticeship vacancies found:

  • one special school with 200 pupils advertised nine teaching assistant apprenticeship posts on £3.50 an hour;
  • at least one school, which is part of a chain that sought to cut support staff roles, advertised a post on the lowest rate;
  • a school with teaching assistant wages, terms and conditions set by a local authority that has sought to cut support staff pay within the last year advertised for a teaching assistant apprenticeship post at the legal minimum.


According to Government figures from 2016, 27 per cent of apprentices working in children’s care are not paid the apprenticeship minimum wage.

GMB has warned that pressure on support staff to work additional hours means that many will effectively be paid below £3.50 an hour.

Meanwhile the union said that 4,000 teaching assistant posts have been lost in secondary schools since 2012.

Andy Prendergast, GMB senior organiser, said, ‘Apprenticeships can be a valuable route into the world of work, but too often they are used to exploit young people and provide cheap labour for employers.

‘In many of these adverts it’s not even clear what training, if any, is actually provided – raising serious questions about these schemes are delivering what they promise.
‘These shocking figures expose how weak the regulations governing apprenticeships really are.

‘£3.50 an hour is a miserly reward for an important job, and the pressure on school support staff to work long and unsociable hours leaves young people vulnerable to exploitation.
‘Teaching assistants are under real threat as the education funding crisis deepens.

‘GMB’s members are suffering from being at risk of redundancy and having their hours reduced, and there are real fears that apprentices will be left to fulfil tasks that should be carried out by experienced professionals.

‘Our education system desperately needs cash to avoid a looming catastrophe – and propping our schools up with low paid apprentices is not the answer.’

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said, ‘Apprenticeships are a key part of creating a stronger economy where people of all ages and backgrounds can fulfil their potential.

‘Apprentices must be paid a minimum of £3.50 per hour but most receive much more than this. We believe school leaders are best placed to use their professional judgement to decide how much to pay their staff, including apprentices.

‘We want schools to have the resources they need to deliver a world class education for their pupils. There will therefore be an additional £1.3 billion for schools and high needs across 2018-19 and 2019-20, in addition to the funding secured at the 2015 spending review.’

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