Take more care of our care assistants

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
One of the high heid yins in our area is retiring. According to the ad for his job, he earned pound;70,000. I'm not exactly sure what he actually did for that money, but it is more than twice my salary.

More to the point, it is nine times what they pay our care assistants in support for learning, and I'm wondering how we can justify paying them so little if we can justify paying him so much.

These women (they usually tend to be females) are treated shabbily. They earn the same as a classroom assistant in a primary school, but their job is totally different. They work with the most disruptive pupils, cajoling and calming them and helping them understand the work. At intervals and lunchtimes, they are frequently in charge. Yet they have little real authority, so have to find subtle ways to control the pupils.

Often they will be trained nursery nurses, or have a nursing background. Many return to college on day release for further training, which often causes huge stress as they do not consider themselves smart. Yet talk to them for any length of time, and their breadth of knowledge and wealth of experience quickly become apparent.

They willingly learn Braille, or Makaton, or acquire the skills required to do their jobs well, but none of this is reflected in their pay.

These are the women who know most about the pupils - what they can do, or can't do, whether they are coping in a class, what fears they have, what family life is like and what they had for breakfast. Yet they are rarely asked for their opinions about the child's targets.

So why are they paid so poorly? Their self-esteem is at rock bottom and they feel unappreciated and unrewarded. This cannot be a good thing. A school can only thrive if all the staff feel valued.

One reason is that they are not in a union, so have little political clout. Another is that they are perceived merely as "helpers". It is time their true worth was recognised, and their pay doubled.

Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High.

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