'Paying to park at college makes me feel unappreciated'

One learning support assistant describes her shock at realising that she'd have to pay to park at her new college


College car parking charges: 'Why treat staff with such disdain?'

Want a job in a further education college? Prepare to be charged as much as 5 per cent of your salary.

First days can be daunting. “You can’t park here. You’ll have to go to the public car park,” says the caretaker as I reach the barrier of the college car park and I’m directed down the road.  As I queue at the ticket machine beeping out tickets at £3.20 a time, I remind myself of the fundamentals – remember colleagues' names, ask where things like the toilets and photocopier are. “We’re lucky,” says the guy in front of me. ”At the other campus, they have to pay more than twice this amount a day.”

News: Colleges make £2.4m in staff car parking charges

More: How much has your college made in car parking charges?

Background: College teacher pay continues to drop

I follow lecturers – who I assume are new, too – laden with huge loads of books and make my way to the college in the distance, which is a good six-minute walk away. I make it to induction with only two minutes to spare and am pleased to receive my lanyard – the piece of "open sesame" technology that will allow me to use the college car park.

As I try to get to grips with a surge of information – who's who in the college, online tests for safeguarding – I'm interrupted by the ping of incoming email. Intrigued, I click on my first email of the day. It tells me that I need to apply for my parking space in the college car park and that charges for this will automatically be taken out of my salary. I have only worked at schools before and the concept of having to pay to park at my place of work is alien to me.

I send off my application – and yet, a space in the staff car park is not a given. I need to join a queue and am warned that it could be as long as a year's wait before I gain this privilege. The staff car park charges are not on a sliding scale dependent on income, so this will have a detrimental impact on many, particularly support staff like me. In the interim, I’ll have to park at the public car park. It occurs to me that, as a learning support assistant, this amounts to a crippling 5 per cent of my salary.

College staff paying for car parking

Instead of focusing on the job in hand, I’m now preoccupied with how I’ll struggle to get through the month and make my already-meagre salary stretch in order to pay these parking charges.

Parking charges are sometimes defended because some campuses are conveniently located near railway links – but surely that distracts from the already neglected issue of staff having to pay for parking. We all know that the vast majority of teachers travel by car: they need a means by which to easily transport their overflowing bags of marking and books.

As I journey back to my car having survived the first day of my new job, I have time to pause and reflect. I realise it’s not just the expense of a public car park that’s bothering me. There’s an added layer of stress that’s been created – the inconvenience and the fact that I don’t feel valued. Surely employees are the most valuable resource? Why treat them with such disdain?  

The writer is a learning support assistant at an FE college in England

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