Support staff unite and fight low wages

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Mrs Preece-Dawson ("Life on less than pound;6,000 a year", Letters, September 24) highlights the fact that most support staff are doing pin-money jobs, providing a second or subsidiary wage rather than the main domestic income.

As a single person it is not easy to manage on the part-time (term-time only) salary I am paid for doing what feels like a full-time job as a school librarian.

The main focus of the workforce remodelling has been reducing teachers'

workload. Much has been said about improving pay, status, training and career opportunities for school support staff, but is money being made available for this?

The power of the teachers' unions has ensured that their voices are heard in negotiations with government. Local education authorities have to pay teachers nationally-agreed salaries.

Support staff, historically mostly female, part-time, non-unionised and with home-care responsibilities, need to speak with a collective voice and press for national pay and conditions and career structures.

The mistaken assumption that non-teaching jobs in school can be done by people with few formal qualifications and that teaching assistants are working only when they are with students in lessons is used by the LEAs to justify recommending low pay and contact-time only contracts.

Nearly all the support staff at my school are either graduates or have professional qualifications in their sphere of work. Many of us work more than our paid hours out of a sense of responsibility towards the students, out of loyalty because the school is perceived as an integral part of the local community, and from a desire to do the job as well as possible.

Many support staff feel that we are still regarded by the LEAs as "ancillary workers", as we used to be called. In fact we are as dedicated, skilled, professional and essential in our own areas of expertise as the teaching staff.

The concentration in remodelling discussions on the work of higher-level teaching assistants seems to assume that everyone who works in support wants to be a quasi-teacher. Many of us do not.

What we do want is to be recognised for the professional job that we are doing, for our contribution to improvements in the quality of teaching and learning and the efficient functioning of schools.

If we want that recognition to be more than a Thank You card and bottle of wine at Christmas - welcome as that is - it will be necessary for support staff to act together, to speak with a united voice and to take a pride in our professional contribution to the education of the nation's young people.

We should not be content to stay, as we have for too long, on the bottom rung of a one-rung ladder.

Sheila Percival 48 Oak Meadow Bishop's Castle, Shropshire

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