2014 – 15 has been another difficult year as schools attempt to balance stand still or decreasing budgets with ever increasing demands to raise attainment. School support staff continue to be subject to redundancy and downgrading. The expectation that it’s a given that support staff work significantly above and beyond their job description continues to cause UNISON serious concern.
Since the last AGM and in line with the authority’s new Trade Union Facility Time agreement, education convenors have reduced their capacity from 3 FTE reps to 2. Along with our corporate colleagues, education convenors have worked hard to minimise the impact of this significant cut to facilities time on UNISON members. Supporting individuals who find themselves in vulnerable positions and representing members collectively remains our priority.
Good News on the Living Wage:-
School Catering staff - The commitment of school catering staff, directly supported by Sheffield UNISON branch has resulted in the Living Wage being paid to some of the lowest paid workers in schools.
Church of England school staff - Nationally UNISON has negotiated a landmark agreement with the Church of England to bring the living wage to staff in all of its schools. The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said:- “Church of England Schools were set up to serve the poor and the marginalised. The new agreement with UNISON will reward schools with Living Wage accreditation for their commitment to treating staff fairly.”
Academy Enterprise Trust (AET):-
Last year AET, the largest national academy sponsor in England announced its intention to privatise an unprecedented range of school support staff.
Locally AET is responsible for Firth Park Academy. UNISON members supported by branch reps, vehemently opposed this move and engaged in a pro-active campaign of opposition. This was supported nationally by UNISONs “Stop the Schools Sell Off” campaign.
At the end of last term (December 2014) AET announced it would not be proceeding with plans to set up a Joint Venture Partnership with a private provider. UNISON members at Firth Park Academy contributed significantly to the success of this campaign and we extend our thanks to them.
School Support Staff Campaign:-
Redundancy, downgrading and a complete disregard for the professional roles school staff undertake prompted UNISON members to set up a Schools Working Party. The Working Party has engaged in a public campaign to defend and promote the contribution school support staff make in providing high quality education.
The campaign has followed the usual routes of petitioning, writing to councillors and MPs as well as events outside the town hall. The public have been extremely supportive of the campaign aims ie for elected representatives and influential groups within the authority to not only challenge the practice of downgrading school support staff , but to actively encourage the retention of experienced staff.
The Working Party recently met with the cabinet member for Children, Young People and Families, Councillor Drayton. It was made clear that her that replacing highly skilled employees with staff working at lower levels, with little or no hope of career progression, will not raise standards in our schools. Councillor Drayton committed to using her position within the authority to raise our concerns with influential organisations throughout the city including the Schools Forum, City Wide Learning Board and School Governors. We aim to meet with her again in the near future.
In the meantime UNISON will continue with the campaign to defend and promote the vital role all school support play in providing high quality education.
Schools remain one of the few areas where employees can be made compulsory redundant. Since last year we have managed to include in the revised “Model School Staffing and Redundancy Policy for School”) the offer of an enhanced redundancy payment. This wasn’t previously included in the schools policy and is a welcome addition. However as you are doubtless aware governing bodies, including those in authority maintained schools can choose not to adopt the this or other model policies.
UNISON will continue to put pressure on all school employers to adopt model authority policies and adhere to them in their entirety.
Despite UNISONs inherent opposition to the “back door” privatisation of schools via the academy agenda, we continue to support individuals in academies as well as campaigning to retain and/or improve terms and conditions.
The recent success at Firth Park Academy is an excellent example of how UNISON can work to oppose decisions made by a large and influential organisation.
Newsletters/ Communication with members:-
School specific newsletters are sent to UNISON members in schools at least once every term (3 -4 per academic year). This is a bulk mailing sent directly to school addresses.
Where necessary, members are written to individually. Newsletters are also available to read on the Sheffield UNISON website as is information relating to campaigns and events.
Stars In Our Schools:-
Following the success of last year’s” Celebration Day for Teaching assistants”, UNISON decided to this year include ALL school support staff.
We wrote to Headteachers asking them to speak to their staff teams to collectively nominate a “Star in our School”. UNISON received individual and group nominations from a broad range of support staff roles and the winners attended a presentation at the Town Hall on the 11th December 2014. Councillor Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for CYPF presented certificates and gifts on UNISONs behalf.
School support staff should be recognised for the excellent work they do. UNISON is acutely aware of this and will continue to raise the profile of all school support staff via individual events and the School Support Staff Campaign.