The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

John Dabell

Helping school staff cope with the cost-of-living crisis

What can schools do to help their staff with rising costs? John Dabell offers some suggestions.

The cost-of-living crisis is having a significant impact on families with children. Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, Brexit and austerity have all contributed to the cost-of-living.

This is also having an impact on your staff, some of whom will be earning very little, especially support staff and those who are part-time or on one-term contracts. In some cases, the fabric of the school is wearing thin in places and schools risk an exodus of support staff to better paid jobs

Forking out

Although teachers earn more than some members of the school community, this doesn’t mean they are better off.

Teachers do not have deep pockets but they have always found a way to pay for equipment and resources in order to furnish or enhance a lesson. There aren’t many professions in the world where its staff spend their Saturday’s rooting through charity shops. Education should be inclusive, but not at the cost of financial security.

Helping to fund the school you are working in isn’t ethical. Who will be able to afford to teach in classrooms anymore? Who will want to?    

Now factor in the cost-of-living crisis for those who have already tightened their belts to the squeeze-point. It isn’t just school paraphernalia they are self-funding; a lot of teachers are paying out of pocket for food, clothes, shoes, and personal hygiene items for their students.

Many teachers, and a range of support staff, are seeing the devastating effects of the cost-of-living crisis on pupils according to a survey by the NASUWT. Teachers are providing money and donating food and clothing to help children and families dealing with the deepening cost-of-living crisis. 15% of the 6,500 teachers surveyed said they had lent or given money to pupils.

Staff will understandably feel uncomfortable discussing their financial wellbeing, but an open-door policy helps staff know they can discuss any problems they may be having and how you can help. 

School leaders will be used to saving costs on their school budget as well as having a poverty-proofing policy in place which looks at school from the perspective of the poorest student. Now this also needs to include working through the lens of all staff who are struggling financially and cannot cover their monthly bills and expenses.

Lots of staff say they 'exist rather than live', shop in budget stores, and dread energy bill rises. It’s little wonder that some are moonlighting. As money is so tight, many support staff and some teachers have resorted to taking second or even third jobs simply to make ends meet.

Ways to help

School leaders need to put in place a programme of information, advice and support to help all staff and the wider community manage the cost-of-living crisis.

To help the teachers and other staff in your school, use an anonymous wellbeing survey to understand what issues, barriers and challenges they face in relation to their own financial wellbeing. Staff will understandably feel uncomfortable discussing their financial wellbeing, but an open-door policy helps staff know they can discuss any problems they may be having and how you can help.     

It is important to be clear about what the needs of staff are, who you are trying to reach, and what other support is already in place, to ensure you are targeting your efforts, time and resources in ways that will maximise the support available. Above all, staff need reassurance that their circumstances are confidential.

Signposting help

  • Sign up for Discounts for Teachers. They are a benefit provider who offer members exclusive discounts at brands that allow them to save on monthly bills, weekly food shopping, daily essentials. It’s free to join. 
  • Secondary school teachers can claim back their student loan repayments if they taught biology, chemistry, physics, computing or languages during the 2021 to 2022 financial year.
  • PayPlan offer simple debt advice and solutions and can help with contacting organisations money is owed to and arranging lower payments to make things more affordable.
  • Education Support is a charity that can provide financial support to current and former teachers and education staff.
  • NASUWT Benevolent Fund offers short-term financial assistance to members, former members, the dependants of members and former members, and dependants of deceased members.
  • The NEU Trust Fund offers confidential support and financial assistance to current and former members of the NEU and its legacy organisations and their dependents.
  • The Teaching Staff Trust is a voluntary organisation that provides financial support to people from the field of education.
  • Professionals Aid Guild (PAG) helps professionals and graduates in the UK with financial assistance.
  • UNISON’s charity, There for You, provides confidential advice and financial help for members and their dependants.
  • MoneyHelper provides information, hints and tips on a range of money topics, including budgeting, mortgages, saving, borrowing and free debt help.
  • Step Change is the UK’s largest provider of free debt advice and debt solutions.
  • Discounts for teachers that you should know about via Your Money Sorted.

Cultural expectations

Birthdays, special occasions, ‘Secret Santa’ and leaving presents can hit the pockets of staff really hard but no one should be obligated to chip in.

This is especially hard for staff working in larger schools where there always seems to be a card to sign and an envelope of money being passed around for you to donate to. This could equate to contributing in excess of 15 times a year and that is a lot of money to find!

School leaders need to consider carefully the financial strain of contributing to various occasions and other social activities as some teachers have to dip into savings and/or overdrafts to contribute. This requires a sensitive approach so that there is less burden on individuals.

Ideally, the governing body could help and look for ways to shoulder the burden through a central fund to help all staff.

In all likelihood though funding will always be a problem so the solution is to make it clear with a not-so ‘Secret Mantra’ to share goodwill by removing expectations and pressure on colleagues to give – it is an individual choice and there should be no stigma attached.  

And finally….

It is not the job of teachers and other staff to pick up the pieces of the cost-of-living crisis or to dig into their own budgets to financially help families in desperate need; some staff desperately need help too.

Without a good understanding of how financial toxicity is experienced by staff there is the possibility that their wellbeing will falter and fail because of the pressure and so be unable to perform as professionals. 

High rates of debt coupled with a cost-of-living crisis and low relative salaries makes for a rather bleak outlook but the school family, the companionship of colleagues and SLT support will help to keep staff hopeful and positive about their futures.  

The risks of not supporting the financial wellbeing of staff are too high to ignore and no member of staff should be left to manage alone. When staff are financially struggling, they are more likely to experience feelings of stress and worry causing sleepless nights and this can lead to poorer performance at work and with relationships with colleagues as well as absenteeism.



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