Saturday, November 06, 2010

no support for school support staff negotiating body

Somewhat predictably, Education Secretary Michael Gove has abolished the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB) set up by the last Government in 2009 to improve pay and conditions for school support staff. The body would have introduced a national pay and career development structure for the 500,000 lowest paid school staff in the country. Mr Gove issued a statement claiming that the SSSNB "does not fit well with the government’s priorities for greater deregulation of the pay and conditions arrangements for the school workforce".
Too right it didn’t!
I wrote to Ed Balls, the then Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools, in September 2008 on the subject of school support staff welcoming his initiative to introduce a statutory independent chair to ensure that teaching assistants and support staff are paid fairly.
Here are some extracts, specifically highlighting my own role:
“I have worked in a comprehensive school in North Somerset since September 2005 (classified at the end of last year as an “outstanding” school by OFSTED) and joined as one of four Assistant House Heads. It was a newly-created role responsible for providing pastoral support to the work of our respective House Heads and Tutors - as well as supporting the pupils themselves in their learning (encouraging positive attitudes and behaviour in and around the school) and their welfare. We are full-time, term-time employees and work closely with an Assistant Head Teacher, responsible for Pupil Support, and are involved with children from Year 7 up to Year 11.
As one might anticipate, the original job specification has developed somewhat since that time! The scope of the role is wide-ranging and carries a high degree of responsibility – we are dealing with staff, pupils, parents and outside agencies as well as liaising with individual teachers, departments and faculties in relation to behaviour and learning for both individuals and groups of pupils. As non-teachers, we represent the key point of contact for parents throughout the school day…. This new role has been very successful - we have been readily welcomed, respected and appreciated by all tutors, teaching staff, pupils and parents alike and are seen as fulfilling a valuable and vital role in the school. One of the key benefits of our role has been its effect on the teaching staff – we have certainly enabled “teachers to teach” rather than to be trying juggle various other pastoral issues.
“Our differing backgrounds and experiences (an English literature graduate; a learning support assistant; a policeman; and an architect!) mean that we have different skills, interests, abilities and ages. We are very good at our job and highly valued by the School’s Leadership Team – even if we are NOT adequately rewarded financially for the work we undertake!....
I believe our type of role in schools is absolutely crucial – and will become increasingly important over the coming years.
“At present, there is no career structure for this or similar positions – all too often (and exactly the same comment can be made about jobs for teaching assistants and other support staff), non-teaching roles in schools are regarded as being for the “secondary earner” in a domestic partnership (even an appalling assumption that it will be mainly mothers taking up such positions “so they can look after their children in the school holidays”!)!”
Support staff are all too often seen as the “cheap option” for many roles in schools. Additional roles (such as those dealing with vitally-important Child Protection matters within schools) are doled out on the basis that “they will look good on your CV” (seriously!) for absolutely nil additional pay or undertaken “voluntarily” on a goodwill basis because staff are conscious of gaps that need to be filled. With no career structure in place, schools seem to rely on “senior” support staff leaving so they can be replaced by new, even-cheaper staff – an awful waste of talented and committed individuals. Despite the fact that roles are constantly being changed and extended in scope, schools and local education authorities continue to hide behind extremely clumsy and outdated grading bands.
There are no national pay rates for support staff employed in the state sector. Most LEA schools use the local government pay scales to pay their support staff in conjunction with National Joint Council (NJC) terms and conditions. However, this can vary between local authorities, which means it is not possible to be prescriptive about the rate of pay support staff will receive – a fact that, in my limited educational experience, employers take full advantage of to suit their own individual circumstances (ie. even if they are apparently financially-independent of any LEA). And, of course, term-time-only contracts means that an employee is only employed when the school is open - in most cases, for 38 or 39 weeks a year.
Individual schools could take the initiative to reward support staff more fairly and to address matters of career development, but this rarely appears to be the case. The SSSNB did seem to be a serious attempt to address national pay and career development structure for the 500,000 lowest paid school staff in the country. The Government clearly doesn’t seem to acknowledge the roles these school workers fulfil (and, frankly, I’ve been pretty appalled by the standard of trade union representatives I’ve come across – none of whom seem to have the necessary knowledge or experience of schools). So, it now seems that school support staff will remain a hugely-undervalued resource and, of course in the present financial climate, those who still have jobs will be reminded just how lucky they are!

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