Don’t Forget, Schools Are More Than Teachers!
The six weeks of summer break are drawing to a close and schools throughout Wales will come back to life over the next few days. This week will see schoolchildren in their brand new shoes and smart uniforms heading back through the school gates. It will see teachers and teaching assistants arrive back to the classrooms ready to meet the new pupils. This week will see the ovens in the school kitchen fired up and catering staff set to keep pupils fed and watered. It will see administrative staff ensure that the day to day running of the school goes smoothly and the school librarians and IT technicians support new students to find the information they need to get top marks. It will see school cleaners mop the halls at the end of a busy day and the caretaker fix that leaky tap.
The success of any school depends on the drive and commitment of the whole school workforce. Whilst the role that teachers provide is vitally important to the standards of any school, the roles of non-teaching staff must never be underestimated. The functions undertaken by teaching assistants, catering staff, librarians and cleaners are all essential in the drive to improve standards in schools. Yet it is often these roles that are undervalued.
Whilst teachers have enjoyed a six week paid summer break, most – if not all – other school staff have not been paid for the summer period. Bearing in mind that most school support staff receive relatively low pay, a problem which has been compounded by the job evaluation process, it is unsurprising that many have had to take on seasonal or second jobs in order to support themselves and their families. Others have simply had no option but to make ends meet. This is by no means saying that teachers should not be paid during the summer period, but UNISON believes that the entire workforce should be treated fairly and equally.
Teaching assistants, for example, are consistently being expected to deliver more. The Welsh Government has publicly recognised the important role that teaching assistants play in school life and have acknowledged the contribution they make to education in Wales. Teaching assistants are increasingly being expected to be more professional, yet the gap between the pay and conditions of teachers and teaching assistants continues to grow.
There is a current recommendation that teaching assistants should register with a professional body. Clearly this would entail some form of registration fee as well as undertaking additional professional duties. UNISON is not opposed to the registration of teaching assistants in principle, however, if school support staff are to undergo the same professional strictures that formal registration would entail, they should also enjoy the same professional benefits – including, the discontinuation of term-time only pay.
Furthermore, UNISON knows that the ceasing of term time only pay makes sense, not just for those directly impacted, but for the school as a whole and the pupils who attend that school. Paying some of the workforce for a whole year and others for term-time only is divisive, demoralising and unfair. Staff who are treated on a par with teachers are more likely to work outside of school hours on planning and preparation, or attend staff meetings or training. In addition, by treating staff fairly it will be easier to recruit and retain high calibre staff.
UNISON knows that good education is the key for the future and we know that good education is not provided by teachers alone, but by the entire education workforce and that every member of that workforce should be equally valued.
Mark Turner is the regional lead for school support staff at UNISON Cymru.
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