Cost of living crisis: Conversations with colleagues

Written by: Sean Harris | Published:
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The cost of living crisis is biting hard. Pupils, families, and school staff are all suffering. In two articles, Sean Harris considers how to support both pupils and school staff. He concludes here with a focus on how we might respond with colleagues who are struggling

The cost of living crisis continues to impact families and children across our country.

In the first of these two articles last week, I considered how we might respond to and support pupils and their families who are in crisis. But the crisis is also affecting our colleagues working in schools and here I want to focus on them.

According to a survey by the GMB (2022), only 23% of teaching assistants reported being able to afford basic necessities. The survey revealed that one in three school support staff have used food banks or think they will need to access one in the near future. Furthermore, some teaching assistants have spoken of not being able to afford to drive to work because of the cost of fuel (Hall & Webster, 2022)

And teaching unions among others have raised concerns about the impact of the cost of living crisis on teachers. Writing in SecEd earlier this year, general secretary of the NASUWT Dr Patrick Roach said: Many teachers can no longer afford to do the job, and many have already jumped ship into other jobs, benefiting either from better pay or lower levels of workload and stress. Our evidence points to teachers now relying on food banks to make ends meet.”

Adults in all roles across the sector will undoubtedly experience increased hardship as a result of the crisis. Here are some actionable approaches to lessening the impact for our colleagues.

Crisis response

Myths abound when it comes to understanding the role of a school leader. One misconception is that it is the role of the headteacher to permanently circuit-break the impact of negative news on staff morale.

It may be important on occasion. Yet it is also important that colleagues in schools understand that leaders are able to see that the cost of living crisis is causing turbulence for families and individuals.

Research literature documents that effective school leadership is dependent on empathy, integrity, acknowledging and responding with emotional dimension (Blackmore, 2004; Hargreaves, 2005; Harris, 2007). Practical approaches to supporting this might include:

  • The appointment of a school leader, governor, or trustee to focus primarily on the cost of living crisis and the response of the school to this.
  • Ensuring that the cost of living crisis is embedded as a frequent agenda item in all line management meetings, staff meetings, and in communications through staff briefings.
  • Supporting all line managers and leaders with an understanding of the crisis and how to navigate this in conversation with teachers and support staff in supervision or line management meetings.
  • Embedding and reviewing engagement with an Employee Assistance Programme to ensure that confidential coaching, advocacy, and support are available for all staff in crisis.
  • Regularly reminding colleagues, at all levels, that while our service is to families and pupils, we have a renewed sense of commitment to each other too as we navigate our response to the crisis.

Money matters

Research by Németh et al (2022) revealed that teachers value their own financial literacy and, in some cases, have a high level of financial awareness. The study revealed that further training and support for educators on financial literacy had a positive effect on practitioners.

Sawatzki and Sullivan (2017) carried out research with educators in Australia and discovered that there is a need to educate teachers to reflect upon the knowledge, skills and capabilities required to make informed financial decisions.

The research indicated that professional development should be used to support educators in identifying possibilities for financial literacy learning across the curriculum.

It is important that teachers and support staff are given access to professional learning that supports their own financial literacy as well as financial discussions they will be facilitating with pupils and families.

In my own schools, we use a virtual learning community (VLC) to regularly curate and disseminate blogs, research links, and share praise for colleagues. Recently we have been sharing links and resources related to the cost of living crisis to help colleagues understand that it is a high priority for our schools and senior leaders.

Practical opportunities for colleagues might include:

  • Including financial wellbeing or literacy CPD as part of staff briefing each term. As part of this, colleagues could be signposted to sources of financial support or advice beyond schools.
  • Inviting colleagues to share (sensitively) as part of staff meetings ideas or strategies for reducing costs at home or across their work in school.
  • A wellbeing round-up email that could be circulated to staff each half-term or so. It might suggest actionable tips for wellbeing and include ideas for financial wellbeing.
  • Creating deliberate opportunities in your CPD programme for teachers and support staff to grow their expertise of financial wellbeing and learn how to talk about money matters with pupils. A number of high street banks and financial charities offer free support/resources.

Professional development

As I said in my last article, our schools should be professional learning environments that engage our staff (at all levels) in research, thinking, dialogue and strategic planning in response to the persistent problem of poverty and the cost of living crisis.

In my multi-academy trust, we have made social justice and equity strategic and moral imperatives of our improvement strategy. You can find out more about how we have framed this priority and how it is leading our partnerships with other schools and organisations on our website.

Alongside this, our school leaders are actively supporting colleagues to pursue research and professional development opportunities that will enable them to think more strategically about the response of our schools to the cost of living crisis and our post-pandemic world.

Suggestions might include:

  • Inviting teachers/leaders to focus on topics of educational disadvantage as part of other professional learning opportunities (e.g. NPQs, accredited training with other providers).
  • Encouraging roundtable discussions for support staff and teachers in school meetings to collaboratively discuss the cost of living in relation to specific families or pupils.
  • Accessing funding from scholarships, universities or local charities for support staff or teachers to lead on specific aspects of the disadvantage agenda as part of a local action-research project.

Finally, independent think-tank New Local and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have launched a “call for learning and ideas” to explore local approaches to addressing the cost of living crisis.

Schools are invited to submit proposals, and this could provide colleagues with an opportunity to share best practice and learn from others (see further information).

Be a calm in the storm

Our staffrooms and corridors should continue to signpost colleagues to sources of help, support, and further information in the crisis. Increasingly, schools are becoming more than just settings of education for children and families.

It is important for leadership teams and support staff to keep informed about the cost of living crisis and the interventions available by which to support our workforce.

Here are some of the recent sources of support that have been made available to individuals and families. Leaders may wish to circulate these to colleagues, signpost them in staff briefings, and display them in staffrooms.

  • Cost of living payment: Guidance from the government on getting an extra payment to help with the cost of living if you’re entitled to certain benefits or tax credits:
  • Grants and benefits to support payment of energy bills: Citizens Advice has compiled a useful summary of grants and benefits that are widely available to support individuals and families struggling to afford energy bills or prepayment meters:
  • Universal Credit: Information and updated guidance on accessing Universal Credit, a payment to help with living costs. Colleagues on low income or now unable to work may be able to access this:
  • Trussell Trust: The Trussell Trust offers advice and support around personal financial crises via their online webpage and a free national helpline. Its website also contains a search tool for finding, accessing, or supporting local food banks:
  • Money Saving Expert: Financial advisor and expert Martin Lewis has provided an updated guide to support all families and individuals navigate the cost of living crisis. The guide contains almost 100 ways to save money:
  • Sean Harris is a doctoral researcher with Teesside University investigating the ways in which system leaders can help to address poverty and educational inequality in schools. He is also a trust improvement leader at Tees Valley Education, an all-through multi-academy trust serving communities in the North East of England. You can follow on Twitter @SeanHarris_NE and read his previous best practice articles for Headteacher Update via

Further information & resources

  • Blackmore: Leading as emotional management work in high risk times: The counterintuitive impulses of performativity and passion, School Leadership and Management (24,4), 2004.
  • GMB: Schools staff need inflation linked pay rise, July 2022:
  • Hall & Webster: From Covid to the cost of living: The crises remaking the role of teaching assistants, Education Research, Innovation and Consultancy Unit, University of Portsmouth, September 2022:
  • Hargreaves: Educational change takes ages: Life, career, and generational factors in teachers' emotional responses to educational change, Teaching and Teacher Education (21), 2005.
  • Harris: Supporting the Emotional Work of School Leaders, Sage, 2007.
  • Headteacher Update Podcast: Tackling the consequences of poverty, July 2022:
  • Németh et al: Teachers' Financial Literacy, March 2022:
  • New Local: Designing out deep poverty and destitution:
  • Sawatzki & Sullivan: Teachers’ perceptions of financial literacy and the implications for professional learning, Australian Journal of Teacher Education (42), 2017.
  • Tees Valley Education: Social justice and equity:

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