Education Support Personnel in the crossfire: New research highlights the consequences of privatization and funding shortfalls

published 23 May 2024 updated 6 June 2024

In a comprehensive new report titled "Carrying the Community: Addressing the Consequences of Privatization and Funding Shortfalls for Education Support Personnel," Education International (EI) has brought to light the critical challenges faced by Education Support Personnel (ESP) due to increasing privatization and funding cuts in public education.

Key findings and concerns

The report underscores how privatization and austerity measures are undermining the essential roles of ESP—ranging from assistant teachers and school nurses to custodians and food service workers—in ensuring the delivery of quality education. According to the study, these trends are not only leading to job insecurity and reduced funding but are also devaluing the contributions of ESP, which are vital for creating inclusive and supportive educational environments.

This research was officially launched during a webinar on May 16th, coinciding with World ESP Day. Education International’s Deputy General Secretary, Haldis Holst, opened the webinar by emphasizing the indispensable role of ESP in the educational community. "You are the champions of the everyday life of a student, of a teacher," Holst remarked. She encouraged attendees to focus on appreciating and supporting ESP, recognizing their integral contributions to the educational ecosystem.

The disastrous impact of privatization and funding shortfalls

The report, led by researchers Anja Giudici and Lucas Cone, documents how global trends in reducing public education funding and outsourcing responsibilities are placing ESP at increased risk of unemployment, devaluation, and material neglect. These changes are seen as redefining the scope and meaning of public education, often to the detriment of ESP's working conditions and job security.

"Leading this research has been a learning experience for us: inclusive, quality education can only happen in a caring, sustainable society, and ESP are a key part of such a community," Giudici noted.

Detailed insights and analytical framework

The research utilizes an extensive literature review, interviews with union representatives, and participatory research to explore the implications of these global trends. It highlights how austerity measures are fragmenting workloads and reclassifying essential roles as non-essential or voluntary, further marginalizing ESP. The findings reveal that precarious contracts and fragmented workloads hinder ESP's ability to integrate fully into the pedagogical mission of schools, often forcing them to leave the public education sector.

Advocacy and resistance

Despite these challenges, the report showcases the resilience and strategies of ESP and their unions in defending the public sector. By building coalitions, engaging in lobbying, and collaborating with researchers and the international community, ESP are actively fighting back against the erosion of their roles and working conditions.

Holistic educational systems and inclusive societies

The study concludes by stressing the importance of recognizing and supporting ESP to ensure better educational outcomes for students and foster more inclusive and equitable societies.

As Holst urged during the webinar, all EI members are called to join the EI "Go Public! Fund Education" campaign, advocating for increased public investment in ESP.

This timely report from Education International serves as a crucial reminder of the often-overlooked contributions of Education Support Personnel. By shedding light on the adverse effects of privatization and funding shortfalls, it calls for a renewed commitment to sustaining strong, inclusive, and quality public education systems, where every member of the educational community is valued and supported.

Celebrating Education Support Professionals (ESPs) Worldwide

On May 16th, the global community came together to honor Education Support Professionals (ESPs) – these dedicated individuals who make a difference every day.

In New Zealand, the NZEI Te Riu Roa organised a series of events and provided valuable resources to encourage schools to celebrate their support staff. Among these festivities was the Support Staff Day Quiz, a fun and interactive way to recognize the hard work and commitment of ESPs.

Across the ocean in Canada, the Confederation of Quebec Unions (Centrale de syndicats du Québec-CSQ) paid tribute to ESPs. They emphasized that these professionals not only know their students’ names but also their stories, challenges, and victories. Their intimate understanding of the community allows them to create inclusive and safe environments where everyone feels seen and heard. Through their daily presence, ESPs positively impact the lives of countless children, adolescents, and adults.

Quebec’s Forward-Thinking Conference

In Quebec, the Federation of Education Professionals (Fédération des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation-FPPE), an affiliate of CSQ, organized on May 30th a conference on “Preventing, Supporting, Nurturing”. This event aimed to promote the crucial role and expertise of professional staff in schools. It highlighted their significant contribution to educational success and foster knowledge-sharing and collaboration among professionals.

Read the blog by researchers Anja Giudici and Lucas Cone, “Carrying the community: how privatization and funding shortfalls are affecting Education Support Personnel,” here.