Staff in schools and academies continue to shoulder the burden of austerity cuts alongside their council employee colleagues.
2015 – 16 has been another difficult year as schools attempt to balance stand still or decreasing budgets with an ever increasing demand to raise attainment. School support staff continue to be subject to redundancy and/or downgrading. The expectation from head teachers and managers that support staff work significantly above and beyond their job description is something UNISON continues to challenge on a daily basis.
School support staff very often work in low paid, low status jobs that do not reflect the high level of expectation, professionalism and responsibility required to fulfil the role.
Trade Union Facilities Time
In line with the authority’s 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.
Supporting individuals who find themselves in vulnerable positions as well as representing members collectively remains our priority.
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 (WP). 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, a 1500 signature petition was presented to full council June 2015, writing to councillors and MPs as well as holding events outside the Town Hall. The public have been extremely supportive of the campaign aims i.e. to call upon elected representatives and influential groups in the authority to not only challenge the practice of downgrading support staff , but to actively encourage the retention of experienced staff.
In addition the WP has met with cabinet member for Children Young People and Families, Councillor Jackie Drayton, the city’s Chief Executive John Mothersole and MP for Heeley Louise Haigh. It was made clear to them all 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 to raise our concerns with influential organisations across the authority, including the Schools Forum, Learn Sheffield and school governors. We aim to meet with her again in the near future.
Debate in Parliament
Louise Haigh MP was keen to hear what the WP had to say and is wholly supportive of our position. As direct result of the meeting, Louise has applied for a debate in parliament to discuss concerns raised by the working party.
Clearly debate at the highest level is significant step in the right direction for the School Support Staff Campaign. It is also testament to working party members who continue to give their time to ensure Sheffield is in a position to recruit and retain high quality support staff.
UNISON would like to take this opportunity to formally thank WP members for their continued commitment and support.
Louise has also submitted a Freedom of Information request regarding how much time Teaching Assistants spend covering classes, an ongoing problem for UNISON and its members.
Schools remain one of the few areas where employees are made compulsory redundant. UNISON has recently renegotiated the Model School Staffing and Redundancy Policy to include an offer of enhanced redundancy payment. This wasn’t previously included in the schools policy and is a hard fought for and welcome addition.
UNISON will continue to put pressure on all school employers regardless of status, to adopt model authority policies and adhere to them in their entirety.
As the Government continues to aggressively pursue its academy agenda, it is vital members continue to receive UNISON support. Members in academies and trusts can be reassured that whatever the status of their school, they will continue to receive strong and effective representation.
Newsletters/ Communication with members:-
Communication is crucial to ensuring members and their representatives work effectively together. School staff in particular can feel isolated from the branch and each other due to the amount of schools and their diverse locations.
For that reason UNISON ensures school specific newsletters are sent to members in schools at least once every term (3 -4 per academic year). This is a bulk mailing sent directly to school addresses and is in addition to the branch newsletters.
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.
We have recently recruited several new school stewards. Unfortunately we are still a long way from achieving our goal of “A Steward In Every School”. To try and encourage school staff, every newsletter or bulk mailing sent to schools contains information about becoming a steward.
School Steward’s meetings are held in branch once per half term, as well as the usual access to training opportunities.