‘Save our school sup­port staff or pupils’ ed­u­ca­tion will suf­fer’

Uni­son Cymru Wales lead or­gan­iser for schools Jess Turner warns that West­min­ster fund­ing cuts are start­ing to hit ed­u­ca­tion in Wales

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AS A par­ent of school-age kids you are prob­a­bly used to the con­trolled chaos ev­ery morn­ing that is wash­ing and dress­ing, get­ting the school uni­form sorted and mak­ing packed lunches.

It might have been a mad rush, but the one thing you won’t have wor­ried about is the qual­ity of the ed­u­ca­tion your son or daugh­ter would be re­ceiv­ing at school.

That could be about to change be­cause seven years of se­vere spend­ing cuts di­rected by the UK West­min­ster gov­ern­ment are be­gin­ning to bite hard and Welsh schools are mak­ing re­dun­dan­cies to their school sup­port staff, who are or­gan­ised by Uni­son.

It would be a mis­take to think it is only teach­ers who con­tribute to your child’s ed­u­ca­tion.

Sup­port staff un­der­take vi­tal but un­her­alded jobs which make schools the suc­cess they are.

They as­sist chil­dren with ad­di­tional learn­ing needs and those in need of ex­tra sup­port; help teach­ers to cope with big classes; re­lease teach­ers for prepa­ra­tion time and help those with English as an ad­di­tional lan­guage. And that’s just in the class­room. The cook, cleaner, tech­ni­cian, re­cep­tion­ist, care­taker and oth­ers all play their part to make the school func­tion. Take away school sup­port staff and teach­ers have a big prob­lem and in­evitably pupils will lose out.

Last week Uni­son made head­lines re­veal­ing that more than 20 schools in Gwynedd are cut­ting the amount of as­sis­tance stu­dents re­ceive in the class­room. Hun­dreds of sup­port staff there have been told their work­ing hours could be re­duced or they could be made re­dun­dant be­cause the coun­cil doesn’t have any more money. In some cases, sec­re­tar­ial staff face re­dun­dancy too.

Ev­i­dence com­ing in from school sup­port staff in pri­mary, sec­ondary and spe­cial needs schools shows that this is an all-Wales prob­lem and we should be very wor­ried. We would ques­tion how class­room teach­ing re­mains vi­able when schools are los­ing sup­port-staff hours in this mag­ni­tude.

If they are re­duc­ing the work­ing hours or mak­ing re­dun­dan­cies for hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees in Gwynedd, we can imag­ine thou­sands are af­fected in Wales.

There is dis­crim­i­na­tion at work too; be­cause in the main school sup­port staff are low-paid women who are more likely to be on pre­car­i­ous con­tracts, there’s a feel­ing lo­cal author­i­ties can sim­ply get away with cut­ting their jobs. Teach­ing re­dun­dan­cies grab the head­lines, sup­port staff los­ing their liveli­hoods doesn’t.

Uni­son’s be­lief is if a fac­tory was to make 100-plus peo­ple re­dun­dant, politi­cians would be fall­ing over them­selves in protest ad­vo­cat­ing ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion by the Welsh Gov­ern­ment. Low-paid women play­ing a key role in the school­ing of our chil­dren shouldn’t be treated dif­fer­ently and that’s why Uni­son has writ­ten to Kirsty Wil­liams AM, Cabi­net Sec­re­tary for Ed­u­ca­tion, call­ing on her to in­ter­vene. We know Welsh Gov­ern­ment mon­i­tors teacher re­dun­dan­cies so it would be an ob­vi­ous next step for it to do the same with sup­port staff.

If sup­port-staff jobs are threat­ened, schools and lo­cal author­i­ties must make good any short­fall in bud­get­ing from their re­serves or look at other ways to save the staff. The ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion of the Welsh Gov­ern­ment is re­quired. We are not blind to the fact Con­ser­va­tives’ aus­ter­ity agenda has robbed Welsh lo­cal author­i­ties of the money needed to in­vest in schools and other lo­cal public ser­vices but Welsh Gov­ern­ment can’t ig­nore the prob­lem.

Put your­self in the shoes of school sup­port work­ers: they suf­fer low pay, a lack of ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­sti­tu­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion that be­lit­tles their role. Part-time, ca­sual and term-time work­ing dom­i­nate. Ev­ery year hun­dreds go through the uncer­tainty of whether the school and lo­cal author­ity will fund their job for an­other year or whether their hours will be re­duced.

How on earth would you be able to plan the fam­ily bud­get and your fam­ily’s fu­ture? That’s sim­ply not a fair way to treat peo­ple. In th­ese cir­cum­stances, in­evitably, work­place morale suf­fers with some of our mem­bers telling us they love the job, but they’d have bet­ter job se­cu­rity work­ing for a su­per­mar­ket, some­times for bet­ter money.

Class­room-based sup­port staff are ded­i­cated pro­fes­sion­als, re­quired to be reg­is­tered ev­ery year with the Ed­u­ca­tion Work­force Coun­cil, the same as teach­ers. Un­like teach­ers, the salaries of Wales’ tens of thou­sands of TAs vary de­pend­ing on where they work; pay is set by each of the 22 lo­cal author­i­ties and their ex­pe­ri­ence and re­spon­si­bil­ity are not al­ways recog­nised in the pay struc­ture.

Some TAs work with­out a proper writ­ten and agreed job de­scrip­tion; you can have the same job ti­tle do­ing very dif­fer­ent du­ties, re­ceiv­ing vastly dif­fer­ent pay across Wales. Many TAs lack proper pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, and shame­fully some are forced to pay for their own train­ing.

Not in­vest­ing in the whole school work­force harms the qual­ity of our chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and means a very raw deal for th­ese com­mit­ted public ser­vice work­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Sup­port work­ers reg­u­larly go way be­yond their du­ties to help pupils and teach­ers ev­ery day; Uni­son wants Welsh Gov­ern­ment to en­sure they get the recog­ni­tion and job se­cu­rity they de­serve.

> ‘Sup­port staff such as din­ner ladies un­der­take vi­tal but un­her­alded jobs which make schools the suc­cess they are’

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