School cuts risking safety of pupils, union warns

CUTS to school support staff could put pupils’ health and wellbeing at risk as already overstretched teachers would be forced to take on tasks such as handing out medicine and conducting criminal records checks, a union has warned.

Unison said administrative and finance staff regularly carry out these tasks, which go beyond their job descriptions, due to previous cuts to support roles. It added that Government advice to merge support staff or share them between schools would be "felt in the classroom".

A survey by the union of 1,400 school office staff found that 95% have regular contact with pupils, 86% with parents and carers, and 78% liaise directly with local authorities  and charities to carry out checks.

Seven out of 10 say they ensure people visiting schools are safe to do so and 41% organise security checks to ensure new staff have no previous criminal convictions.

More than half (55%) administer medicines and first aid to pupils, and 62% update school medical records.

Despite 63% of survey respondents working full-time, one in 10 said they need a second job to make ends meet. Unison said many work in supermarkets or as swimming, dancing and karate teachers, demonstrating the huge impact of the squeeze on public sector pay.

Almost nine out of 10 (87%) said their top concern is excessive workloads. Nearly half (47%) said the number of administrative staff has been cut in the last year, leaving 74% of those with no alternative but to work extra, unpaid hours.

"School office staff go above and beyond every single day and schools would struggle to manage without them. If their jobs go, everyone - heads, teachers, pupils and parents - would notice the difference," said Jon Richards, Unison head of education.

"These employees play a vital role keeping children safe, reassuring parents and ensuring the smooth and cost-effective running of schools. Without them, already overstretched teachers and teaching assistants could be pulled out of classrooms."