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Major independent school chain adopts living wage for support staff

Teachers’ pay is a high-profile issue, and plans to hand salary decision-making to headteachers has caused uproar.

But little has been said of late about school support staff – the teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, caretakers and admin staff who toil to ensure the smooth running of a school, often for little pay.

In the state sector, efforts to create a consistent pay and grading structure failed to reach fruition with the departure of the last Labour government three years ago, and so the market still rules the salaries of some of the lowest paid staff in schools.

So it is with interest that we hear the news that a leading chain of private girls’ schools is to introduce the “living wage” and a formal pay and grading structure for all of its 2,000 support staff. The move is believed to be a first for the private education sector.

The decision means that, from September, the vast majority of support staff in Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) 24 schools will receive at least £7.45 an hour and £8.55 in London. This amounts to a pay rise for a third of the chain’s employees.

Officers at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union, who worked with GDST to reach the deal, point out that while the move is good news, around six schools employ cleaning and catering contractors. The living wage will not apply to those workers yet.

But schools have promised to favour living-wage employers when contracts come up for renewal.

As for the new universal pay and grading structure, the GDST and union representatives say it will be fairer, ironing out years of inequality.

Peter Morris, national official for support staff at the ATL, who negotiated the deal, told TES: “This is creating transparency and consistency across the schools.

“Creating a formal structure to pay and roles, you are putting support staff on the same level as the teachers in terms of professionalism.”

Mr Morris added that it is an “irony” that the School Support Staff Negotiating Body – set up to create a national pay and grading structure in the state sector – has abandoned the ambition, while a private school chain has successfully achieved its aims.

Of course, as with all job re-evaluations, there have been winners and losers during the review process and compromises have been made: the ATL says a very small percentage of staff found they had been overpaid for their jobs.

Around 140 staff who were on 52-week contracts have also been told they will be paid term-time only, to put them in line with other support staff in the chain. They will have two years’ grace until their pay will change, or can choose a compensation package.

Helen Fraser, chief executive of the GDST, said: “The majority of those who benefit from the living wage are women, as they tend to fill lower paid cleaning and catering jobs. 

“Our schools have a long history of promoting the advancement of women and our trustees are committed to ensuring that our employees, both male and female, are getting a fair deal.”

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