Teaching assistants buying school uniforms for 'cash-strapped' families

Teaching assistants are using their own money to help families buy school uniforms, fund trips and provide lunch money, according to a new survey.

The Unison survey of more than 4,500 teaching assistants from primary and secondary schools in the UK finds that more than a fifth (22 per cent) have bought children uniforms, a similar proportion (23 per cent) PE kits, while 20 per cent have helped pupils with lunch money.

Nearly one in five had provided cash so that children could go on school trips.

The survey, which highlights how pressured, low-income families are turning to schools for basic support, also finds that more than one in ten (12 per cent) schools are operating food banks for families.

The survey follows a report published by the National Governance Association earlier in the week, which showed a 3.5 per cent decrease in the number of schools providing financial support with purchasing school uniform, but an increase in those providing food banks, meals outside term-time and washing uniforms.

Findings from the survey of teaching assistants also reveal:

  • More than half said parents are increasingly in need of more help.
  • Just under half reported pupils arriving at school hungry more often.
  • Two in five said they were witnessing increasing levels of poverty.

The research comes at a time when teaching assistants are feeling the financial squeeze, says Unison.

The survey found that more than three quarters (77 per cent) of schools are making cutbacks, especially over the last couple of years, and more than half (52 per cent) are axing school support staff jobs.

Seven in ten respondents said the number of support staff had decreased despite the number of children they were responsible for increasing. More than half of teaching assistants said they were considering leaving their jobs.


Head of education at Unison Jon Richards said, ‘It’s shocking that some parents are so desperate they’re turning to teaching assistants and schools for help.

‘This demonstrates that support workers are not just essential in the classroom. Their role now extends to acting as benefactors, so pupils and their families don’t go without, despite many not earning much more than the struggling parents themselves.

‘They go above and beyond their job descriptions day in day out. Yet the Government fails to recognise their worth by paying them a decent wage or acknowledging their vital contribution to children’s education.

‘Perversely, recently leaked documents suggest the Government is questioning the role of teaching assistants. They should be getting behind teaching assistants, just as they have teachers and school leaders.’

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