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School support staff – It’s time to give them their due

When praising the outstanding work performed in our school communities during the pandemic, let’s not forget the comparatively unsung heroes without whom our schools would grind to a halt…

  • School support staff – It’s time to give them their due

I’m not sure it’s the right time to be writing this, so soon after the loss of our school site manager, Alan. I’m not going to spend the entirety of this article talking about him, but needless to say, he was a vital lifeline of support for staff in both in, and on many occasions, outside school.

This is, however, an opportunity to acknowledge all those people who keep our schools going, but very rarely get mentioned.

Because let’s face it – if you’ve yet to buy your site manager, cleaner or the cook a decent Christmas present, you’re hardly recognising just how much they contribute to making your life better, just when you need them most.

As well as bailing you out when you have a flat battery, or have had a particularly messy classroom day, they’re often likely to be more ‘local’ than teaching staff, and therefore a key source of community feeling.

Role of support staff in schools

How the site staff, cleaners, et al keep our sites in any sort of operational state – let alone complete the flourishes you see around so many schools – is remarkable.

School buildings regularly take a hammering, not because of deliberate damage, but just through the sheer volume of traffic around them. It’s almost surprising that they’re not routinely reduced to rubble.

The last year has obviously been difficult, and we’ll all have our own opinions on the level of empathy and recognition we’ve received from the government.

However, as teachers have focussed on online learning, those staff often in school the most have been colleagues in the finance team, the reception staff, the cleaners and co-educators (LSAs etc).

Co-educators have been supervising the children of key workers and vulnerable students. The finance team has been busy ensuring that free school meals vouchers have gone out, that salaries have been paid and that incoming bills have been processed.

The reception staff have been on the frontline, frequently dealing with anxious, and sometimes angry parents and carers. The cleaners have overseen relentless cleaning regimes in an effort to keep our environments as safe as possible.

It’s been a remarkable team effort.

Schools are big machines. The people who provide the oil that ensures we all keep moving forward are too often those seemingly forgotten whenever anyone talks about the work that ‘education staff’ have done over the past year.

As we come through the pandemic, I know that for many of us, the bond between our parent/carer communities and schools is stronger than ever, having grown from a mutual understanding of how hard teachers and families at home have had to work together.

Young people and their families have appreciated the struggle it’s been to improve our own skills in the digital world; lots of teachers have received thank you messages as a result, which have been a great lift. How many other vitally important members of staff feel similarly appreciated?

The importance of support staff in schools

As people working in education, we’re all highly aware of the many ways in which we’ve been lucky – our greater job security, for instance.

Having a purpose is, and has always been, a major privilege, but it’s never been as tough to balance being ‘in work’ whilst also managing one’s family life and our own anxieties.

Knowing that our efforts have been recognised has helped many of us to keep going – so it’s equally important that we find time to recognise the efforts of those who have been in the background, doing their jobs quietly and without fanfare.

We might know the value of those who support us, but do they? With so much focus on home learning, and then the return of students to face-to-face education, the media coverage surrounding teaching has been plentiful (not all of it positive, of course), but I’m yet to read the articles about the involvement of everyone else.

So let’s make sure we thank those performing the vital tasks that keep us all going, with the lowest salaries and least public recognition. The loss of Alan has made it crystal clear to me that we must never underestimate the work that he, and others like him, do for our communities every single day.


Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99).

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