December 2022“I am worried about putting my heating on. Everything is so expensive, and we’re a working family living on basic food with no luxuries. It is a luxury having food at the moment, and this is so sad on the lead up to Christmas”

Comments of a Teaching Assistant employed in a school in Wales

“Just to let you know I no longer work in an RCT Primary school. As much as I loved my job I was unable to make ends meet and had to find alternative employment”

Comments of an Ex-Teaching Assistant employed in an RCT school.

Just 2 examples of the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on our school support staff members. We could share a lot more.

Recent UNISON research has found 1 in 8 school support staff have had to use food banks.

The survey also found that intolerable pressures are also forcing many employees to leave the Education sector for better paid jobs elsewhere. More than a quarter had to take on a 2nd or even 3rd job in order to meet ends meet. Almost half were actively looking for alternative employment

RCT’s Education Convenor, Dean Price commented ”These are truly alarming statistics for some of the hardest working, yet lowest paid employees within schools. Teaching Assistants, Learning Support Assistants, Special need support Assistants (how are they still around?)Technicians, Administration staff, Catering staff and Caretakers all play a vital role in the Education and development of pupils yet they are paid a pittance in comparison to Teachers and Headteachers .Additionally, in the vast majority of cases support staff receive term-time only pay”

RCT Schools

The Autumn term has seen some concerning matters raised by members in relation to their employment. Concerns that have nothing to do with the Cost of living crisis, nor and 47 million pound budget shortfall which the council finds itself faced with, but everything to do with poor practice. Members are reporting being asked to work with pupils when they have not received the appropriate training to do so. This applies particularly to additional learning needs pupils (ALN)There are regular instances of members being expected to work outside of their contracted hours. Numerous schools continue to pay Teaching assistants below the agreed Level 3 (GR6) for doing vital Intervention work with pupils. We have also received reports of schools expecting members to pay back time for attending hospital and Occupational Health Appointments. This should simply not be the case. We are also faced with the totally unacceptable situation of long serving support staff working on temporary contracts in schools. How can this be? It is something which has a huge negative impact on our members who are seeking loans or mortgages as part of their daily lives.

RCT’s Education Convenor commented “Headteachers and senior school managers will tell you how much they respect the members of support staff employed at their school. The above information makes that very hard for UNISON to recognise. Sadly, it would appear that there are schools who think they can make up their own rules with scant regard for staff’s job descriptions and for RCT council’s policies and procedures, which are definitely fit for purpose. This has to change”

Pupil Behavior.

Information from members would suggest that pupil behavior is heading in only one direction. It is not a positive direction. It is true that the effects of the Covid 19 Pandemic is a factor in this. However, it would be naive to think this is the only reason.

Members are reporting incidents where they are regularly receiving 4 letter words of abuse from pupils, and being subjected to inappropriate physical contact in many different ways from pupils. Some will try and convince you “it’s part of the job”. Let UNISON be clear, it is not. UNISON will never accept that verbal or physical abuse against our members is acceptable. Sadly this is something which is becoming all too common, not only in RCT, but amongst our members throughout Wales. That does not make it acceptable

UNISON has also found many instances where this behavior is simply not being recorded by staff.Members do need to take some responsibility for this. UNISON are equally convinced there are some Head teachers and Governing bodies who are reticent to record such incidents for fear of showing their school in a bad light. This is the sort of attitude that nobody will benefit from in the longterm. RCT council provides an Incident/Accident Investigatory and Injury record (HS5A) form,(widely shared by UNISON) and this is the documentation members should be completing for each incident. There really is no alternative. By not completing this paperework members are letting themselves and the pupil/s down

Dean Price commented “some members say “if we did that we’d be filling in forms every 5 minutes”. Well, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Be under no illusion if an allegation was made by a pupil against you as members, where the pupil alleged verbal or physical assault it is very, very likely that you would be placed under investigation .It equally likely that you would be suspended from work for many months. With assistance from our Health and Safety Officer, the Branch has requested from RCT data regarding these Incidents/accidents and the sickness absence data relating to support staff in schools.”

RCT 21st Century Schools update

Welsh Government has recently confirmed it’s funding contribution to create brand new buildings and improve facilities at 3 RCT schools. These are Pontyclun Primary, Llanilltud Faerdref Primary and Penygawsi Primary .Construction work will begin shortly at each of these schools, with an expectation that work will be completed by 2024/25

UNISON also expects the consultation process, with recognised Trade unions, and staff to begin in the early months of 2023 regarding the proposals for the reorganisation of schools in the Greater Pontypridd Area. This is due to be operational in September 2024

Community Meals Service (Meals on Wheels)

UNISON is sympathetic to RCT council with regard to the dire financial position it finds itself faced with moving into 2023, not least because it is not a situation of their own doing. A confirmed funding gap of 47 million pounds for the financial year 2023/24 is unprecedented and will have inevitable consequences for the services the council provides.

With regard to the Community meals Service, cabinet has agreed proposals which will see a reorganisation of the existing internal service and provide a hot/frozen community meal home delivery service with increased service user charges and reduced subsidy per meal. The council is currently carrying out a consultation with Service users and stakeholders. This consultation will run from 5 December 2022 until 9 January 2023. If this proposal moves forward it will inevitably have a negative impact on the number of current posts within the service

Dean Price commented “the only positive is that Catering Services have a number of posts within RCT school kitchens which need to be filled. This will create options for Community meals staff to achieve alternative employment within these locations. Together with some staff who have already indicated their preferred wish to leave employment, it could be that that the negative consequences can be mitigated. An alternative job in the council is better than no job. That is sadly the current financial reality we are faced with”

UNISON Cymru Wales Schools support staff Seminar 2023

UNISON will be holding a school support staff seminar on Friday 20 January 2023 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cardiff. You don’t have to be a representative or a work place contact to attend this event. You will of course need permission from your school to do so. Closing date for registration is 15 December 2022 so you will need to act quickly if you wish to attend. Please let me know via the E Mail address at the end of this mail out if you wish to do so.

Matters for discussion at next year’s seminar will be:

Appropriate deployment of Teaching Assistants

Social Prescribing (strategies beneficial to pupils physical and mental health)

Violence and sexual harassment in schools

Managing challenging behavior

Education Workforce council (EWC)

Making schools more LGBTQ Friendly

RCT’s Education Convenor commented “this seminar is an excellent opportunity for support staff from the 22 local authorities in Wales to come together and share their experiences in one location. UNISON feedback would suggest the workshops and items for discussion very accurately reflect current concerns amongst members. This Seminar is designed to offer members the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience which they can use very positively  back in school. Welsh Government First Minister, Mark Drakeford and Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, have both accepted an invite, and confirmed their attendance at this event”

Wrap up

To end on a positive, you should all be receiving your back pay for the 2022/23 pay award in your December salary. Can I also take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Christmas and healthy 2023.

Dean Price commented “In a normal year that would be my last word, but given the ongoing cost of living crisis which is having such a devastating effect on so many of our members and their families, and the fact that this impact is being felt not only by our lowest paid members evidences how bad the situation really is. This Christmas I will leave the final word to Nelson Mandela

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists there is no true freedom”

Dean Price

RCT Education Convenor

Cwm Taf Local Government Area Branch