Support staff feel unfairly treated over low pay

Union presses for a negotiating body for pay and conditions to match board just introduced in England

Isabella Kaminski

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School support staff in Wales increasingly feel a sense of injustice at carrying out teachers' tasks for low pay, according to an Assembly government report. But many schools cannot afford to train classroom assistants to a higher level.

Good quality teaching assistants are seen as critical to the success of the play-led foundation phase for under-7s, which is beginning to be implemented this term. Teaching assistants also free up teachers' time to plan for lessons, and some even cover lessons normally undertaken by qualified teachers.

However, more than half of full-time teaching assistants are only employed during term-time, and are not paid during holidays.

A range of workers, including cleaners, secretaries, bursars and nursery nurses, were asked about working conditions for the School Support Staff in Wales research report for the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, published in August.

Support staff numbers are at an all-time high - approaching 17,000 - according to the latest school census figures. Administrative staff numbers have swelled 27 per cent since devolution, and support staff with a responsibility for childcare have increased by almost 70 per cent since 2002.

Unions say Wales lags behind England in supporting non-teaching employees, although pay and conditions are not devolved.

A new organisation, the Schools Support Staff Negotiating Body, was launched last week to fight for better staff pay and conditions in English schools, but it does not cover Wales. Brian Strutton, national secretary of the GMB union, which represents school support staff, is pressing the Assembly government for a similar support group in Wales.

"If it's good enough for support staff in England, it is good enough for Wales," he said. "They (support staff) have got precisely the same issues as staff in England.

"Support staff are increasingly being asked to be the new professionals in the classroom, so they need to be treated fairly."

Government researchers said many employees were inadequately rewarded for carrying out demanding work, which in turn made it more difficult for schools to recruit staff. They also concluded that low pay and the perception of support jobs as female work meant very few men applied for these roles.

The report says that support staff brought "considerable goodwill" to their roles and were generally satisfied with their jobs. However, there was a feeling of slight injustice that they carry out many of the tasks attributed to teachers for a fraction of the salary.

Ed Balls, England's Schools Secretary, announced plans at the Labour Party conference last week to seal fairer pay for support staff in England and Wales.

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Isabella Kaminski

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