Delegates discuss progress, victories and challenges in schools

In the final session of this year’s local government conference, delegates debated a series of motions on schools and services for children and young people.

Carol Ball for the service group executive revealed that the issue of the administration of medicines in schools was continuing.

School support staff are still being “coerced” into providing medical support to pupils, with neither the training nor any recognition of the extra responsibility in their pay packets.

But she noted that progress has been made, with new guidance on the issue that UNISON has contributed to, and which clarifies that support staff cannot be forced to provide medical support.

And in Glasgow, school support workers took industrial action to prevent them from having to deal with medication.

Sylvia Hockney of Glasgow City Council was one of those strikers, and she told delegates about the sort of conditions that they would have been forced to deal with, including epilepsy and asthma – the latter of which caused “80 deaths in Scotland last year”.

Conference called on the executive to continue work on the issue and to monitor the new statutory guidance.

On mental health in children and young people Cath McGuinness of the Northern region said that, “sadly, mental health problems affect about one in 10 young people”.

She called for a consistent approach to the issue and also for the union to raise awareness of the work that it has done and does on mental health questions.

Among a number of actions, delegates called on the executive to “ensure that everyone who works in our schools have some basic awareness and training in mental health issues”.

Conference also backed a motion calling for the service group to organise an annual day to celebrate all school support staff, building on the success of last autumn’s teaching assistants’ day.

Kate Cunningham from Sefton, a teaching assistant for children with special needs, said that she “couldn’t believe the difference that the TA day made to me,” giving her the boost and the confidence to become more active in the union.

Chris Tansley for the executive reiterated just how successful the day had been, and said that that was why the executive was supporting calls for a similar day for all school support staff.

Sharon Graham from Northumberland County explained how stress and sickness are major issues for teaching assistants, because of the vast range of work and responsibilities that they are expected to take on.

And Justin Ashton from Stoke described school support staff as among the most “dedicated, hardworking members of society” – “they’re champions”.

If delegates were going to applaud after he’d finished speaking, Mr Ashton suggested that they applaud the “mums’ and dads’ army” of support staff “who keep our schools alive”.

They did applaud – loudly.

Conor McCardle from Newcastle said that “evidence suggests” that struggling councils are closing more Sure Start centres.

Mr McCardle told delegates about the union’s campaign in the area to defend the service, I heart Sure Start.

Calling on delegates to “show your love for Sure Start,” he urged branches to campaign creatively to save the service.

For the executive, Brenda Hall said that centres were being closed just at a time when even more parents needed such help.

Delegates called on the executive to campaign to oppose all cuts to Sure Start and early years services, and also to lobby government and opposition to support the expansion of funded early education and childcare for all two-year-olds.

UNISON in local government

UNISON in education