School support staff face ‘uncertain future’

A handful of motions and impassioned debates during this morning’s local government conference highlighted the increasing pressures on UNISON’s school-based members.

Delegates heard how the “schools landscape” is continuing to change, as more and more schools move away from local government control – with ever-growing numbers of academies and free schools being established.

As a result, members face an uncertain future.

Despite government pledges that schools will be protected from cuts, some school support staff – from school crossing patrols to teaching assistants – are facing redundancy or downgrading of their posts, as head teachers struggle to balance the books.

At the same time, in a recent survey of over 15,000 school support staff, more than 80% said they were concerned about workload, with 74% revealing that they regularly worked unpaid overtime.

In introducing a composite motion on organising in schools, Joyce Guthrie of Northern region commented that the union’s members were becoming the “casualties” of both the fragmentation of education and the pressure on school budgets.

“We did not start this attack on school support staff, but we need to defend them by organising,” she said. 

With so many members in schools no longer being employed by their local authority, it is important to ensure that UNISON’s visibility is strong.

The conference agreed that the SGE should encourage branches to introduce a dedicated schools officer or organiser, who would concentrate on recruitment and retention, as well as visiting staff to discuss issues and pass on information.

The campaign will continue for a reduction in support staff workload. The SGE produce material for branches that address workload issues, and make the case to government that strategies for reducing teacher workload should not have a negative impact on support staff.

Delegates also noted the pressures on support staff in dealing with challenging behaviour and violence in schools. The SGE will call for all schools to adopt a behaviour policy that covers support staff.