Teaching assistants taking second jobs, or leaving to work in better paid roles due to cost-of-living pressures

Press Release

Thursday 21 September 2023

Teaching assistants (TAs) in England are taking second jobs to supplement their income during the cost-of-living crisis, according to a new report of teachers and school leaders.

Findings within NFER’s report, Cost-of-living crisis: Impact on schools - School staff [PDF], show that the vast majority of senior leaders – at 82 per cent in special schools, 75 per cent in primaries and 72 per cent in secondaries – are reporting some of their TAs taking up additional employment.

Some schools also highlighted how the crisis is leading TAs to quit in favour of better paid jobs in other sectors (such as roles in hospitality and retail) that offer either increased pay or more working hours.

Cost saving measures taken by schools in response to cost-of-living increases have only intensified the workload pressures on staff and made retention more challenging.

Furthermore, cost-of-living increases have compounded pressures on school budgets, limiting the salaries schools are able to offer potential TAs and support staff at a time when staff are having to contend with pressure on their personal finances. For example, 45 per cent of secondary and special schools and 34 per cent of primary schools report that low salaries are the single biggest barrier to recruiting TAs.

In the study, conducted in collaboration with ASK Research and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, NFER recently asked more than 2,500 senior leaders and teachers in mainstream schools, and more than 100 in special schools in England, a series of questions to understand the impacts of cost-of-living pressures on schools[i].

NFER Research Director and report co-author, Jenna Julius, said:

“The cost-of-living pressures are intensifying existing recruitment and retention challenges. Staff and potential applicants are more likely to look for higher paying and less pressurised jobs outside the sector while budget pressures are limiting the salaries which schools can afford.

“We welcome the Government’s plans to refresh the current teacher recruitment strategy and our previous NFER research has outlined the urgent need for this. Our report published today further highlights the importance of revisiting this strategy and indeed extending its scope.

“A new long-term workforce strategy, including teaching assistants, school support staff and tutors, alongside teachers and leaders, is needed. For wider support staff, this should include looking at whether pay is competitive enough to attract and retain sufficient high-quality staff.”

Nuffield Foundation Programme Head, Ruth Maisey said:

“Teaching assistants play a critical role within schools, running intervention groups to improve children’s outcomes and supporting teachers with a heavy workload. It’s vital for pupils and teaching staff alike that a schools’ workforce strategy incorporates teaching assistants and support staff, as well as teachers and leaders.”

Further key findings from the report show:

  • Less than half of teachers can afford to pay an unexpected expense outright. Teachers are making similar lifestyle and spending changes to the wider British population in response to cost-of-living pressures on their finances.
  • Cost-of-living pressures have amplified existing recruitment and retention challenges in schools.
  • The overwhelming majority of schools are struggling to recruit TAs and other support staff. Among schools who had to recruit staff into these roles over the last 12-months, 90 per cent of special schools, 80 per cent of primaries and 75 per cent of secondaries report difficulties recruiting other support staff. Large numbers of TA and other support staff vacancies remained vacant for more than two months, especially among special schools[ii].
  • Among the senior leaders who recruited teaching staff in the last 12-months, nearly all (88 per cent) secondary schools report that teacher recruitment was difficult over the last year. Only a fifth of secondary schools who tried to recruit teachers managed to fill their vacancies within two months.
  • A substantial proportion of primary and special school senior leaders also reported facing difficulties recruiting teachers, albeit lower than in the secondary sector (59 per cent of primary and 77 per cent of special senior leaders).
  • Half of schools across all settings are struggling to recruit teachers with the required specialist skills and experience. Similarly, around three-quarters of schools are unable to recruit TAs with the required specialist skills and expertise.

The report makes the following key recommendation:

The Government should prioritise the refresh of the teacher recruitment and retention strategy and extend its scope. A wider education workforce strategy is needed that has a long-term focus, and includes teaching assistants, school support staff and tutors as well as teachers and leaders. For wider support staff, this should include looking at whether pay is competitive enough to attract and retain sufficient high-quality staff.

This paper looks at the impact of the cost-of-living on school workforce. It is the final in a series of three cost-of-living reports that have been published in September. The first looked at the impact on pupils and families and the second focused on the impact on school provision resulting from cost-of-living pressures.


[i] NFER collected data via an online survey sent to all state-funded mainstream primary and secondary schools and all special schools in England in April and May 2023. We received responses from 1354 senior leaders and 1317 teachers in mainstream schools as well as 87 senior leaders and 41 teachers in special schools. Mainstream surveys are weighted to be nationally representative of schools in England. Special school surveys are not weighted due to the relatively small response rate achieved.

[ii] For example, among the schools recruiting for TAs over the last 12-months, only seven per cent of special schools, 23 per cent of secondaries and 45 per cent of primaries report filling all TA vacancies within two months.