'Stop picking on this group'

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Up to 17,000 schools were forced to close as support staff joined biggest nationwide strike since 1926. Jon Slater reports.

Striking support staff attending Tuesday's pensions rally were in no doubt they were being treated unfairly compared to teachers.

Kim Carter, school administrator at St Clement Dane's primary in Covent Garden, London, said the proposed changes would cost her more than a quarter of her pension if she retired at 60.

"I really object to the Government picking on this group of workers. I think we should be entitled to the same pension rights as teachers - we all work together," she said.

"The final irony is that it is the Labour party that is taking away our pension rights."

Ms Carter, 49, who has worked at the school for nine years, has a total of 25 years' service in the pension scheme following 16 years working in social services.

Her colleague, Vivian Sanassy, a learning mentor at the same school, said:

"On the one hand you are called a professional, given greater responsibility and access to things like child protection issues, but on the other you are not afforded the same treatment as other workers.

"There are laws preventing people from discriminating on so many levels, but this is clear discrimination against support staff. It sticks in the throat."

Louis Smyth, 48, a teaching assistant at Mapledown special school in Barnet, north London, said he would have to work an extra two years to qualify for a full pension.

"I am due to retire at 63 but these changes will force me to work until 65.

To add two years to your working life like that is not fair.

"I work really closely with the teaching staff at my school and they deserve the extra wages, but when it when it comes to non-wage conditions I think we should be treated the same."

It was not just support staff who were demonstrating on Tuesday.

Almost 100 pupils at Granville school in Woodville, Derbyshire, were suspended after a protest over packed lunches provided for pupils on free school meals in place of their normal hot dinners.

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