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Teaching Assistant Pay

Volume 736: debated on Monday 17 July 2023

[Relevant document: Summary of public engagement by the Petitions Committee, on pay for teaching assistants, reported to the House on 12 July, HC 73.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 620264, relating to pay for teaching assistants.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir Mark. Some 88,410 people signed this petition, including 178 in my constituency. The Petitions Committee received 22,506 responses to its survey, of which 84% were teaching assistants and 3% were former teaching assistants. Some 5% were teachers or headteachers, while 4% were other staff who work in a school. Some 2% were close friends or family members of a teaching assistant, and 1% were parents or guardians of a school-age child.

This issue is particularly close to my heart, because before I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Gower, I was a secondary school teacher, and I have worked with dozens of teaching assistants over my career, which also included eight years working in the north-west of England in four different schools. I know at first hand how invaluable the support that they provide is in not just running a classroom, but supporting pupils to achieve their full potential. I have also seen how their roles over the years have been dismissed and devalued—the last in the list when it comes to progression and development, but the first roles to be cut when budgets are. There is an expectation of unpaid after-hours work just to fill the gaps left by schools when they are cutting budgets and when public services are being cut more broadly, and they provide key pastoral care and wellbeing support. In far too many cases, they must provide physical support when they are neither trained nor remunerated for that work.

The petition calls for the work that teaching assistants do to be reflected in their pay. Before I discuss the issue specifically, I will tell hon. Members more about the work that teaching assistants do, as it is clear that the role they play in our schools is not fully understood. In fact, the Government’s own “Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child” White Paper published in March 2022 used the phrase “teaching assistant” only twice, and it failed to mention their pay or progression. Teaching assistants take on a variety of roles, from ensuring that students have nutritious meals in school to delivering structured interventions to help pupils to progress, working and planning closely with classroom teachers and senior leaders. They play a key role in tackling inequalities and improving attainment, especially for those pupils who are falling behind, or who have additional special learning or mental health needs or behavioural issues.

Research by the Education Endowment Foundation found that teaching assistants who provide one-to-one or small, group-targeted interventions can result in pupils achieving between four and six additional months’ progress on average. A 2019 research project for the Department for Education found that senior leaders placed a high value on the capacity of teaching assistants to improve classroom management and other staff workload pressures. Those same senior managers reported that budget restraints saw teaching assistants being forced to do more and more without corresponding increases in pay.

Teaching assistants are doing that work in an increasingly challenging environment. The impact of the pandemic is still being felt strongly in schools and across communities, with the crisis in children’s mental health and wellbeing being one of the starkest reminders to us all. There has been a 77% rise in the number of children needing specialist treatment for a severe mental health crisis from April to October 2021, compared with April to October 2019; in that context, the care and attention provided by teaching assistants is more vital than ever before.

Research by the University of Portsmouth, commissioned by Unison, found that the covid period “remade” the teaching assistant role, and that the changes are likely to be long lasting. The role has become even more varied, intense and emotionally demanding, with more support being given to parents and carers, and more backfilling for specialist staff; add to that the fact that there is a desperate lack of places in specialist schools, and the role of a teaching assistant has become more and more complex. There are also many parents who wish for their child to have mainstream education and not be put in a specialist educational environment. Therefore, the role of a teaching assistant, as I have seen at first hand, is key for inclusivity in all classrooms and schools across the United Kingdom.

A Unison survey found that many teaching assistants were expected to provide medical as well as educational support. Twenty seven per cent reported providing physical therapy, 65% reported supporting pupils with toileting and soiling incidents—and that was not just in primary schools—and 7% were providing assistance with both catheters and colostomy bags. While they provide that essential support, the survey found that 48% of teaching assistants do not feel valued as a member of staff by their school. There is a real concern about the experiences of teaching assistants that we cannot ignore.

A study by the University of Roehampton found that teaching assistants were kicked, punched and spat at by pupils, with one interviewee experiencing a spinal injury and forced to take early retirement; that is not the first such case that I have heard of throughout my career. Some teaching assistants reported that violent students were given lesser sanctions for attacking them than they would receive for attacking teachers or senior managers. The prevalence of physical violence against teaching assistants, many of whom are women, risks normalising violence against women to children who are present, as well as being entirely unacceptable to classroom staff. One teaching assistant responding to the Committee’s survey said:

“The amount of children coming into mainstream schools with behavioural problems is increasing and some are very violent which is hard to cope with physically and mentally. It also has an impact on the rest of the children in the class as it disrupts their learning, and they also get very distressed. It falls on TAs to work with these children without any training. It’s unfair on staff and children as there is no support for us.”

Working in such conditions, it cannot be surprising that nearly 50% of those surveyed by Unison are actively looking for better paid work. I know from my own experience that many of the women I worked with who were teaching assistants moved on to other work or had numerous jobs. Teaching assistants are some of the lowest paid public sector workers, sitting at the bottom of local government pay scales. The majority of local authorities use the National Joint Council pay spine, and although academy trusts are not obligated to use that scale, some do. The bottom end of the NJC pay spine is lower than the living wage. The mean salary of full-time and part-time teaching assistants in state-funded schools in England from 2020 to 2021 was only £19,000. One respondent to the Committee’s survey highlighted the reality of the pay for teaching assistants:

“Poor pay is now a real concern. Due to my hours being term time only and this is pro rata over the year. I actually only bring home around £14k which is a very poor salary in today’s situation.”

The average take-home salary for a teaching assistant is £14,211.

It is an issue that depends on the person’s sex. Many women who are mothers find that working as a teaching assistant will fit in with their children and be convenient. But we do not want it to be a job of convenience; it has to be a job with pay progression that also offers the right work environment. As I said, 92% of teaching assistants are women, and the chronic undervaluing of what is perceived as women’s work has created a situation where key workers find themselves below the poverty line. Is it any wonder that, along with nearly half of teaching assistants looking for new roles with better pay, 28% are having to take on second or third jobs to make ends meet, and 43% have had to borrow money from family?

The impact of low pay is amplified by the cost of living crisis, particularly where we find ourselves today. In response to a 2022 survey by the GMB, one teaching assistant said:

“It is very stressful trying to manage bills and food costs. We now wear extra layers and use hot water bottles as we are extremely worried about finding the money to pay the bills and not get into debt.”

Members of the GMB report that they regularly pay for essential items such as food and toilet paper for their schools and pupils out of their own pockets. I saw that happening in all my teaching jobs—before covid and before I was in this place.

Only 4% of respondents to the survey agreed with the statement “my pay is keeping up with the cost of living,” because it is not. Sixty-six per cent said that they could not afford necessities for themselves each month, and 73% said they could not afford necessities for their families. This response from one teaching assistant really sums up the issue:

“We work at home unpaid to prepare resources, do research and training. We often stay late and arrive early also unpaid. I would like our pay to reflect the role we do. I am a mother of three. Myself and my husband work full time... I eat less to feed my children, I go without clothes, haircuts and non-essentials to make sure my children have all they need.”

Low wages do not only impact current teaching assistants. The disparity between these wages and other comparable work means that schools are struggling to attract and retain new teaching assistants. The Education Research, Innovation and Consultancy Unit has warned that there is a

“new emergency over TA recruitment and retention”,

which the Minister will be aware of. In 2020, it was reported that vacancy rates were higher for teaching assistants than for any other occupation, and 90% of teaching assistants who responded to the Committee’s survey said that they had considered leaving the role. One respondent, who is a headteacher, said:

“Teaching assistants are one of the most important resources in my school. I am losing highly skilled, trained, experienced TAs who are leaving to take up posts in supermarkets and other work which is paid better.”

That is not to undermine the value of retail work, but it does highlight the impact of low wages on retaining—as another respondent said—“amazing teaching assistants”.

Recent research by SchoolDash found that support staff vacancies are up by 85% compared with before the pandemic. Numerous other employers, from supermarkets to warehouses, are now offering variations on term-time only contracts in a direct attempt to recruit school support staff on more competitive terms than schools can offer. It should not be a competition. In addition to low pay, school support staff are cut off from career development opportunities as they are ineligible for careers programmes, scholarships and the new national professional qualifications, which currently apply only to teachers, school leaders and special educational needs co-ordinators.

The decisions we make about our education system should be driven by what is best for pupils, and teaching assistants have an enormous positive impact on their attainment and experience. Teaching assistants are proven to improve classroom behaviour, which is especially true for children who are all too often let down by mainstream education. Teaching assistants are reported to be effective at lowering exclusion rates for particular groups where they are often deployed to provide personal learning support, including pupils identified with special educational needs and disabilities, those with poor mental health, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. Despite that, teaching assistants are not eligible for the SEN allowance afforded to teachers. According to the Department for Education’s own review of academic evidence, 91% of primary school teachers and 75% of secondary school teachers were very or fairly confident about the positive impact of support staff on pupils’ learning, and other studies have found that teaching assistants can have a positive effect on children in their care.

Our schooling system is severely underfunded, with real-terms pay cuts, the closing of services and crumbling buildings; this is what we have to show for a decade of under-investment in the future of our children. In the long term, our education system needs a radical new approach to funding, but as a first step towards that much-needed reform I can think of no better place to start than improving the salary and recognition of teaching assistants.

I close my remarks with a quote from a teacher in response to the Committee’s survey:

“[Teaching assistants] are all too often the only reason a student will stay in school. Their nurturing nature and patience is priceless, their ability to break down work so a student can understand is phenomenal. Pay them what they deserve!”

I do not plan to speak at length but am happy to speak briefly. I very much welcome the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) making the case for teaching assistants, and I should declare a family interest: I am the brother of a teaching assistant who works in special educational needs setting. I recognise the incredibly important work that teaching assistants do, which the hon. Lady has encapsulated well.

We would all like to see everyone in the education system better paid for what they do and their activities recognised, but I want to highlight the specific challenge, particularly for our special educational needs schools, when it comes to funding teaching assistants. In the recently announced pay offer, which I strongly welcome, we saw an improvement to the usual situation in that the offer covers not just schools, but further education; that is very welcome. The challenge, though, is that when successive Governments have funded teachers’ pay, they have not provided the same support for schools when it comes to teaching assistants’ pay. Even the lower increases that we have seen through the local authority pay bands have not been funded by the Treasury and the Department for Education in the same way that the teachers’ pay increases have over the years. That has increased the pressure on schools, particularly special educational needs schools, such as Fort Royal Primary School in my constituency, which have to—quite rightly, in order to meet need—employ a large number of teaching assistants.

I know that the Minister for Schools, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), will quite rightly point out that the Government have more than doubled high needs funding—I welcome that and know there is significantly more money going into the area—but that doubling of funding is in response to demand and to what the Children’s Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), has acknowledged is a rising level of need in our schools. I speak in this debate to urge my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister to consider how, particularly with our special educational needs schools, but also with our mainstream schools that are supporting more and more children with SEN, we can ensure that pay awards reach teaching assistants and, crucially, that they are fully and properly funded; otherwise, we will have a situation where, in order for schools to meet their commitments to teachers’ pay and other areas they want to support through investment, they unfortunately have to cut back on the very important work of teaching assistants.

I join the hon. Member for Gower in recognising the quality, quantity and range of teaching assistants’ work, and the important role they play in supporting inclusion. The Education Committee has looked at the issue of persistent absence in school, and we have found that inclusion is crucial. Making sure that children’s needs are met is a crucial part of ensuring they can continue to attend school. I do not pretend that this is an easy area; on one small point of defence—the White Paper, which I co-wrote, did mention the work of teaching assistants in a couple of areas, as hon. Lady pointed out, but it also talked about apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, which are a real opportunity to build a route of progression for teaching assistants. I have seen some very interesting schools that have found teaching assistants, sports assistants and meal assistants who are able and excited to move up into the teaching profession, and those schools have provided support for them to do so and a route for further progression. I would love the Government to look at what further routes of progression could be built for teaching assistants so that more of them can go on—perhaps when the children have grown up and flown the nest, as is the case for my sister—into a career in teaching.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Mark. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on an excellent speech, and I thank the people who signed the petition. Some 1,000 or more in Cumbria signed the petition, which might reflect the fact that we are a community of many schools, not least because of the rural nature of much of Cumbria, which means that many of those schools are very small. In my visits around Westmorland in recent weeks and months, I have been to primary schools with as many as 450 children, as few as 13 and all points in between. The value of teaching assistants in each of those schools—a primary school, a high school and a special educational needs school—is immense, and it is important that we recognise that.

One thing I hope we can achieve in this debate—I hope that we can achieve much more—is to put on record the collective gratitude of Members on both sides of the House to people who choose to enter this profession. The value of teaching assistants is immense. They assist—as one might expect from the title of the profession—teachers to teach. If a teacher is dealing with, say, 30 children of a range of abilities, teaching assistants allow them to focus on the delivery of the subject matter, and teaching assistants get alongside those children, whether they are ahead, behind or in the middle of the pack. As we have heard, that is of enormous and transformational value in terms of children’s ability to succeed later in life. Particularly at primary school level, teaching assistants help children to get a love of learning and understand how to learn independently, at least to some small degree, so they can go on to learn with a greater level of maturity once they get to higher education.

Teaching assistants’ qualities are immense, their value is immense and they are not well paid, as we have heard. The hon. Member for Gower read out a number of powerful statistics, and I hope that people pay attention to them. Perhaps the most powerful is that although the median or average wage of a teaching assistant is around £19,000 a year, many of them are term time only—some of them by their own choice and some of them because of the school’s budgetary constraints—which means that their average income is just over £14,000.

That will have an ever bigger impact in the more expensive places to stay, so I want to make a particular case for the Minister to bear in mind how things are for us in Westmorland and Furness. In our community, the average house price is more than 12 and a half times the average household income. In the last three years, the long-term private rented sector has almost evaporated into Airbnb. Along with the steady rise of second home ownership, which has gobbled up the housing market in much of the lakes and the dales, that means that there is basically no housing that is even remotely affordable or available for people on anything other than a staggering salary.

That affects not just teaching assistants but people working in care, hospitality and tourism, and every other profession. We have a massive workforce crisis, which is seen very clearly, school by school, when it comes to teaching assistants. Westmorland and Furness Council receives no provision, and neither do other councils similar to ours, to acknowledge the vast gap between average wages and average house prices and rental prices. That means that we are starved of a workforce, so we are very grateful for every person who chooses to work in the profession.

We have also heard, rightly, about the issue of career progression. If someone does not feel that there is a way through their profession into a higher level of qualification —potentially even becoming a qualified teacher at some point—their morale and the ability to retain those people in the profession will be affected. We see that school by school and, I am sure, constituency by constituency: people who have great qualities and the ability to add even more value to their communities are being stymied, reaching a glass ceiling and therefore leaving the profession altogether.

We of course see people leaving education because of salaries. In particular, in my community that is because there is great pressure on our workforce for a variety of reasons—I have mentioned housing, but there are others. Nearly two thirds of the hospitality and tourism businesses in my patch are operating below capacity, because they do not have enough staff. That means that those who have the wherewithal can therefore increase their terms and conditions and salaries—that is great—but teaching assistants, care workers and others are the pool of labour that is being redistributed into the private sector away from teaching assistant and care assistant roles, and we are suffering as a consequence.

I have been to lots of schools recently. In the past few weeks, I have been to many of the schools in Kendal, Brough, Tebay, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, Great Asby, Clifton, Witherslack, Shap, Windermere, Crosby Ravensworth, Kirby Lonsdale and Crosthwaite. The No. 1 issue that they raise—and I think that this will be obvious to most Members present—is that of salary, pay and where that money comes from. There has been no central or local authority funding to address rising energy costs. Teachers’ pay awards are overdue and insufficient, yet schools have not been funded to pay for them, either. The current pay offer looks like 6.5% but more than half of that will have to come from within school budgets. They cannot find the money. What can schools do? They cannot put prices up or increase their commercial revenue. They will, of course, pay the teachers their pay award, but that will mean having to cut other staff—which very often means teaching assistants. I am afraid that it looks like schools are having to pit teachers’ pay awards against having teaching assistants. These folk, who are on low wages but do immense work, are being let go. I cannot think of a single school in my part of Cumbria that is not at least contemplating doing that.

I ask the Minister to think very carefully about the impact on children of having demoralised teaching assistants who are either taking second and third jobs just to keep themselves going or, more likely, leaving the profession altogether. What does that mean for the quality of education? What does it mean for the stress levels of the teachers left behind to deal with large classes without any help whatsoever? What does it mean for children with special educational needs? We know how long it takes these days to get an education, health and care plan. Schools and teaching assistants have to carry the load before an EHCP is provided, and even when one is provided it is the schools that have to come up with the first £6,000 of the cost. Teaching assistants spend time with those children with the greatest level of need. If we want them to thrive, we need to invest in them, and that means paying people enough to keep them in their profession for a long time.

In conclusion, if the Minister is going to take this issue seriously and do more than pay lip service to how much we value teaching assistants, he will ensure that schools are adequately funded to provide the pay rises that they are being asked to make. That will enable them to keep their current staff and pay them properly. The huge cost of living disparities in authorities such as mine mean that many people, including teaching assistants, are being lost to the workforce. The Minister should therefore also arrange a special alteration to the formula for Westmorland and Furness so that our schools can pay teaching assistants adequately and they can afford a place to live. Finally, as has been said by Members on both sides of the House, we ought to be retaining teaching assistants by valuing them, creating a career structure and ensuring that the options on the table include the ability to progress directly into the training profession. In the end, we must value our teaching assistants not just through what we say but through what we do.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for opening the debate. I also thank all those who have signed the petition for bringing this pressing matter to our attention.

I pay tribute to all teaching assistants and school support staff across the country for their hard work and dedication. The essential support that they provide is invaluable in shaping the lives and futures of our children. As a former teacher, my hon. Friend spoke with insight and expertise about the challenges that teaching assistants face and the invaluable role that they play in schools, tackling inequalities, supporting children who are falling behind, improving progress, helping with mental health interventions. I am also very grateful to her for basing her contribution on research and evidence, especially from the University of Portsmouth, in particular on the conditions caused by the pandemic, including the concerning levels of physical assault. I thank her again for securing this debate and for her excellent speech.

The quality of teaching is the most important influence on improving children’s outcomes and delivering to them a high-quality education. As we know, teaching assistants are an essential part of that, offering supervision and encouragement to pupils, supporting teachers and assisting classroom management, and organising and assisting with extracurricular activities, as well as helping at breaks and lunchtimes. TAs help to create an environment that is conducive for effective teaching and learning, and they are a fundamental part of our education system. I also pay tribute to the extraordinary dedication of teaching assistants during the covid pandemic, supporting vulnerable children and the children of key workers. It is difficult to see how our school system would have managed without them.

Unfortunately, despite the integral role that they play, TAs and the wider teaching profession have been consistently overlooked and undervalued by this Government. According to a survey this year by the National Education Union, three out of every four TAs are routinely working out-of-contract hours and nearly half of TAs undertake cover supervision.

Increasingly, we hear stories of TAs leaving the profession to take up better-paid jobs elsewhere, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower stated earlier. Even more worryingly, support staff are turning increasingly to food banks, as confirmed by the charity Education Support in The Times Educational Supplement today, to cope with the cost of living crisis. Yet despite these struggles, many teaching assistants are still helping struggling pupils from their own pocket with food, uniform and school supply costs, as I have seen at first hand from visiting schools across the country.

It is no surprise that school support staff vacancies have almost doubled since the start of the pandemic, with schools being forced to turn to supply teaching assistants from recruitment agencies to fill those vacancies, which eats further into their tight budgets. Indeed, recent analysis by my party has found that schools have spent £8 billion on such fees since 2010.

Support staff shortages hit those areas with more poorer pupils the hardest, as they often include schools with the largest class sizes and the most need for individualised support. The loss of school support staff also disproportionately impacts students with special educational needs, as we heard earlier, because they rely on vital one-to-one support and are often in need of additional pastoral care. Since 2010, TAs have been pushed into responsibilities that go way beyond their contract and job description, often picking up the pieces for overstretched teachers, acting as cover or stepping in for school nurses.

Cuts to youth services and wraparound services since 2010 have also placed a heavy burden on schools. And in the midst of a mental health crisis among our young people, TAs are often out of their depth and overwhelmed. Morale in the sector is not helped when senior Government Ministers describe school support staff in derogatory terms or when the Education Secretary refuses to confront reality and says that reports of teaching assistants leaving for supermarket jobs are “untrue”. When we factor in the increased stress alongside the erosion of pay and conditions, it is not a mystery why many teaching assistants are looking elsewhere for work.

Although the Government do not directly determine the pay of TAs in all schools, they are responsible for investing in authorities and schools that often decide the pay scale. Also, the Government’s inability to grow the economy or run our public services effectively has had a clear impact. In schools, budgets remain below 2010 levels and when budgets are extremely tight, teaching assistants—much to the regret of school leadership—are often the first jobs to be cut.

The impact of these cuts are felt across the school, but they are mostly felt by those children who need the most support, which is likely to be part of the reason why the attainment gap is widening at all stages of children’s learning and is now at its widest in a decade.

Labour is determined to fix this. We will do so by tackling head-on the recruitment and retention crises with school leaders, ensuring that every child has world-class teaching; by valuing rather than belittling the teaching profession, supporting teaching staff to develop as experts in their field; and by recognising and respecting the work of our school support staff, who deliver crucial learning support, especially for children who face the greatest barriers to engaging with education. We will once again make teachers and TAs feel valued and appreciated for the work that they do.

We will work with schools and school leaders to tackle the workloads, expanding the workforce to deliver optimal support for pupils and alleviate strain on staff, which will also be aided by reforming Ofsted. The next Labour Government will provide better working conditions for all workers, including teaching assistants. We want to learn from other professions how they structure pay, progression and ongoing training, to attract and retain the workforce. Our new deal for working people will ensure fair pay and job security for all. We will value every worker and ensure that their skills and expertise are acknowledged and appreciated. We will also provide better training and support structures, to ensure that workers are not pushed out of bounds of their contract.

To ensure that children receive the best possible education, it is crucial that we stand behind those who support them. Teaching assistants deserve to be treated fairly and paid fairly. They deserve to be respected, trusted and appreciated by a Government who recognise the sacrifices that they have made and continue to make to support the children across the country who face the greatest barriers to learning. What they do not deserve is to be overstretched and undervalued by a Government who do not prioritise their needs. The impact of that adversarial attitude on children’s learning has been clear to see.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister, in his response today, will outline what his Department is doing to tackle the growing number of vacancies among school support staff, to retain the excellent teaching assistants currently supporting children across our country’s schools and to once again make the role of teaching assistant valued and respected, as it was under the last Labour Government. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all speakers for contributing to today’s debate.

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairship, Sir Mark. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on her well informed and passionate speech opening this debate on the petition relating to pay for teaching assistants. I would like to start by saying that the Government recognise teaching assistants as a valuable part of the school workforce. We appreciate the dedication of our teaching assistants and know the valuable contribution that they make, alongside excellent teachers, to pupils’ education.

The Department recently published data on the number of teaching assistants through the school workforce census, which showed that there are now 281,000 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in schools. That represents an increase of 5,300 since 2021. Teaching assistants now make up three in 10 of the school workforce overall, accounting for 37% of the nursery and primary workforce, 14% of the secondary workforce and 52% of the special school workforce.

We know that when teaching assistants are well trained and well deployed, they can improve pupil attainment. Evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation shows that teaching assistants can add up to four months’ improvement in pupil progress when delivering one-to-one or small group support using structured interventions, as the hon. Member pointed out in her opening speech. That is why we set out in the SEND and AP Green Paper our intention to develop a longer-term approach for teaching assistants, to ensure that their impact is more consistent across the system and that they can specialise in interventions that are proven to work.

I hope the Minister will indulge me. When I was teaching, I had a young man in my classroom called Jac Richards, who was a wheelchair user and non-verbal; he used an Eyegaze. He was well supported by his teaching assistants, Hayley and Joanne, and learnt French from year 7 to year 11. Unfortunately he was unable to sit the GCSE exam, but the gift they gave him in preparing and supporting me to prepare resources for an Eyegaze to teach a young man French was absolutely magic. Also, he participated fully, and this was a mainstream 11-to-16 school. When I say “fully”, I mean he was able to come on the trips to France and everything. That is how magic his experience was in school: he was able to be in my classroom and to participate. That is how wonderful teaching assistants are, and I hope that the Minister hears more examples like that, because it really was an honour and a privilege to be able to teach Jac thanks to them.

I am delighted that the hon. Member was able to put that on the record. I hope that the teaching assistants she mentioned will see that in Hansard. We want those examples to be more consistent right across the country, so the Department already provides support for teaching assistants through a number of programmes, including training to improve maths for teaching assistants through the maths hubs, and to support them to identify and meet the needs of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities through the universal services programme. We are also pioneering innovative practice through the “Early Language and Support for Every Child” pilot to trial new ways of working to better identify and support children with speech, language and communication needs in early years and primary schools.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, IfATE, recently published a revised level 3 teaching assistant apprenticeship developed by employers, which became available for delivery from 6 May this year. Schools will be able to access up to £7,000 of levy funding to train and upskill teaching assistants. Of course, schools are free to set terms and conditions for teaching assistants and support staff according to their own circumstances. Local government employees, including school support staff, are covered by the National Joint Council terms and conditions, known as the green book. Most schools, including academies, use the local government pay scales in conjunction with the green book. Local government pay scales are set through negotiation between the Local Government Association, representing the employer, and local government trade unions, such as Unison, Unite and GMB, which represent the employee. Central Government have no formal role in those matters.

Currently, a generous offer is on the table for employees covered by local government pay scales. The offer for 2023-2024 is a flat cash uplift of £1,925 from 1 April 2023. That is the same uplift agreed for the 2022-23 pay deal. If accepted, it would equate to an increase of 9.42% this year for those on the lowest pay scale and an increase of £4,033, or 22%, over the two years since April 2021. We also know that schools can and do pay teaching assistants more than those on the lowest pay scale, currently earning £20,441 per annum. It is disappointing that the unions have rejected that offer, which would provide certainty for staff who are waiting to see an increase in the size of their pay packets. I hope that the pay award can be settled without the use of strike action, as we know that that will impact children’s education and cause disruption for parents.

The Government understand the pressures that people face with the cost of living, which is why we are providing £94 billion of support to households with higher costs across the 2022-23 and 2023-24 financial years—equivalent to £3,300 per household on average. Points have been raised in the debate about the ability of schools to pay for teaching assistants, particularly in the light of the recent pay award. The Government are committed to providing a world-class education for all children and have invested significantly in schools to achieve that. The 2022 autumn statement announced an additional £2 billion in each of the 2023-24 and 2024-25 financial years, over and above totals announced in the spending review in 2021.

In response to the issues raised by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), let me say that the pay award announced last week is fully funded. Last week, we announced an additional £525 million this year to support schools with a teachers’ pay award, and with a further £900 million in 2024-25. That means that funding for mainstream schools and special needs is more than £3.9 billion higher this year compared with last year. That is on top of the £4 billion cash increase last year—an increase of 16% over those two years. We submitted detailed evidence of the schools cost to the pay body, the School Teachers’ Review Body, and set out that the first 3.5% of the pay award is already funded by a £3.5 billion increase in school funding, which also included a very pessimistic assumption about energy costs that the hon. Gentleman also mentioned. The extra 3%—between 3.5% and 6.5%—is the funding that I just announced of £525 million this year and £900 million next year. The unions have acknowledged that the pay award has been properly funded.

Next year, school funding will be more than £59.6 billion—the highest ever level of school funding and the highest ever level in real terms and in real terms per pupil, as measured by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Schools are expected to use their core budgets to pay for staff, including teaching assistants, and they may use local government pay scales when setting pay. The Department’s affordability calculation for schools takes account of the latest pay offer to teaching assistants.

The petition highlighted the importance of teaching assistants supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities. I reiterate the importance of teaching assistants’ support to those pupils, and outline our commitment to ensuring that such pupils receive the support they need. High needs funding for children and young people with complex special educational needs and disabilities will rise to £10.1 billion in this financial year, 2023-24; that is an increase of over 50% on the 2019-20 allocations. On top of that funding, special and alternative provision schools will receive an additional £50 million in 2023-24 through the teachers’ pay annual grant to support schools with their staffing costs.

Schools are expected to meet additional support costs of up to £6,000 per pupil with SEND from their core budgets. They can then seek additional funding from local authorities’ high needs budgets, and local authorities usually assess the need for extra funding through the education, health and care needs assessment process. If a pupil has an EHC plan, the local authority has a duty to secure their special educational provision, which will often include a teaching assistant. If the cost of that provision exceeds £6,000 per pupil, it will be paid for from the local authority’s high needs budget, which, as I have said, has increased considerably over the last few years. On 2 March, we published the SEND and AP improvement plan in response to the Green Paper. This outlines the Government’s mission for the special educational needs and alternative provision system to fulfil children’s potential, to build parents’ trust and to provide financial stability.

As I outlined earlier, we intend to develop a longer-term approach for teaching assistants to ensure that their impact is consistent across the system and the different responsibilities they take on. We want teaching assistants to be well trained and to be able to develop specific expertise —for example, in speech and language interventions. As a first step, we have commissioned a research project to develop our evidence base on current school approaches, demand and best practice. That research is being conducted by YouGov and CFE Research, with findings due by the end of the year.

The Government value teaching assistants and the role they play alongside excellent teachers. We recognise the positive impact they can have on pupil outcomes when they are well deployed and well trained. I have set out that we will be developing a longer-term approach to ensure that this is the case and that the impact of teaching assistants is more consistent across the system. The first step we are taking is to improve our evidence base through the research project that is currently in the field. Schools are best placed to recruit and pay teaching assistants according to their own needs, which is why central Government do not have a role in setting pay for teaching assistants or other school support staff. Many schools, including academies, pay teaching assistants according to local government pay scales, and if the pay offer for local government employees is accepted for 2023-24, it would see the lowest paid earning 22% more than they did in April 2021.

I will keep my comments brief. I believe that there is a need for reform: our teaching assistants deserve better, and there should be a real focus on recruitment and retention. I appreciate that I am from Wales, but the issues are similar across the United Kingdom, so we should all stand together, work together, and look to improve recruitment and retention, and pay, for those who play a vital role in our schools.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 620264, relating to pay for teaching assistants.

Sitting adjourned.