Derby City Council

Derby City Council’s Teaching Assistant pay cuts; Is this Banwait’s “Poll tax” moment?

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Cutting someone’s pay by 25% at 3 month’s notice has no legitimacy, morally, or ethically. Anyone who believes that such a policy could ever have been acceptable, really needs to question their own competence. Whoever is accountable for this decision in the Council really needs to consider their own position.

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The underpinning legislation on Equal Pay which has driven this exercise is entirely appropriate. It is inevitable within a large public sector organisation like the Derby City Council that pay anomalies will have crept in to the structure over the years and that an objective review is necessary to make corrections.

2 processes have been conducted in this review:

Job Evaluation – this is the process of re-grading a job to ensure that people in comparable roles are paid at a similar level. Anyone who has lost money as a result of this will be offered “pay protection”

Working Hour changes – this is a change that means that school-based staff are only paid for term-time plus statutory holidays. Also the working week is now considered to be 37 hrs long, an increase for some from 32.5 hrs. Staff on 32.5hrs are seen as part time and consequently their pay will be pro-rated down. Anyone who has lost money because of this process has NOT been offered “pay protection”.

Due to the term-time issue, then the people most severely affected are school-based staff, and especially Teaching Assistants.

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The changes will be implemented from 1 January 2016. Barely time for anyone to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate a massive pay cut.

But there is a consequence which the Council seemingly has not considered. Many Teaching Assistants (TA’s) are an important part of supporting children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The Council is already failing in their statutory obligations to provide sufficient places within the City, and is also not consistently issuing documented SEN plans in the required 20 week timescale. The system is creaking. Now, they have seriously undermined this fragile situation by demotivating a large section of that community and making their employment positions untenable. From September, when they received their original letters, their futures have become uncertain – they cannot make decisions in their personal lives, they may have to change jobs, change housing, but certainly re-adjust in some profound ways.

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Some comments from concerned parents:

Teaching Assistants are fundamental to meeting the needs of children in the city, particularly children with special educational needs. Indeed, some children need full time one to one support to enable them to access effective education in an inclusive environment. Without consistent support from an experienced TA the Local Authority would not be able to fulfil its legal duty to maintain the special educational provision set out in my child`s statement of special educational needs and this is echoed by many other parents. Whist I agree in “fair pay” I feel the authority has underestimated and undervalued the roll of the Teaching Assistant.

The TAs that support my child have years of experience and they understand how to support him in an effective way. Without them, my son would struggle to stay within a mainstream setting as it is too much for a teacher to give a child like this enough individual attention.

For my child to attend a specialist school, the cost to the council would far exceed the cost of a skilled TA. Also, his needs would not be met as effectively as they are currently.

We talk about “work of equal value” – however, I think that the work of the TAs is being vastly undervalued. They are essential to the life of a school and especially in the life of a child with additional needs. Their experience should be valued, and rewarded, in the same way that a teacher’s is. When you look at the responsibility they take on, you can see their worth and the difference that they make.

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As a parent of a child at Ivy house school I have huge concerns with the implications of the TA,s proposed cut backs to their salaries.

The classrooms at Ivy house school are made up of TA,s whose skills are invaluable to our special needs children. The majority of children at this school have high medical complex needs and the TA’s have been there many years gaining invaluable skills and training, looking after these children, many who require twenty four hour care. The majority of the children are doubly incontinent and also require hoisting. On top of this the TA’s have skills in tracheaostomy care, peg feeding, dealing with the complexities of everyday out of control epilepsies, ventilated children, to name but a few.

Ivy House is a happy environment where our children strive, they are stimulated and cared for. As parents of such medically complicated children it isn’t a decision taken lightly to let them go into the care of another person, we have such a huge trust of the staff and it is of a huge comfort knowing all of my child’s needs are being met and that they are stimulated and have a really good day at school, after all every child has the right to an education.

I can’t begin to imagine the impact on the children and families if TA’s had to leave because of these severe pay cuts. I myself would be very hesitant to send my child to school with new staff. What if the TA’s couldn’t be replaced, and children were spending time at home? Imagine the impact on the families, who are probably already at breaking point meeting all the needs of these children, these cuts are not only going to effect the TA’s – it will have a knock on effect on the schools and families the consequences don’t bear thinking about. The TA’s working at these special schools have gained such invaluable skills, and go above and beyond to keep these children happy and well, they deserve a huge pat on the back never mind a pay cut. It’s shocking.

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In the Councils FAQ’s one of their comments is very telling – “The Council believes that this represents the very best offer that the Council can make, within its stringent budget constraints”. But this is not about cost management – this is about ensuring equality of pay…isn’t it? Their true colours have been revealed!

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It feels like the Council have exploited a well understood situation ( i.e. school staff working times being centred around fixed term lengths) and bludgeoned it through with little sensitivity for the consequences on their employees – blaming budget constraints!

Perhaps a more modern establishment would have considered more equitable, practical, and ethical ways to implement these changes without this scything guillotine that will metaphorically de-capitate all those affected. I can only speculate on the deep nausea one would feel when one finds out that one’s pay would be cut so dramatically. I wonder if anyone in the Council gave this a second thought?

It is ironic that this whole fiasco is running in parallel with the debate in the Houses of Parliament about Tax Credit cuts. The backgrounds may be quite different, but the consequences on the individual’s monthly income is exactly the same – and from the a Labour controlled Council!

On 4 November 2015 there was the second demonstration outside the Council Offices. This was timed with the presentation of a 5000 signature petition. It was hoped that this could be handed to the Leader or someone representing the Labour group – but no one was available. It was given to an Officer.

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Several hundred people attended, and it was well-supported by the passing traffic “honking their horns”. The representatives from UNISON explained that this case would be taken up at National level, and that there was a view that a legal challenge could be made. Additionally, they would be reviewing the options for strike action.

I rather suspect that the Council might have seriously mis-calculated the depth of opinion on this issue. After all, who would be “comfortable” with accepting a significant reduction in pay at short notice. Missing this can only be down to incompetence. Alternatively it shows how out of touch the leadership is with reality, and hints at a level of arrogance that one would expect from the Tory Government.

Depending on the resilience of those that are affected and how well it permeates the general public consciousness it could mean that this becomes a real thorn in the side for the Council….and ultimately the Leader. He may gain long term notoriety for his serious lack of judgement and become a victim of his very own “Poll tax moment”.

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