Whilst battle lines continue to be re-drawn between Derby City Council and UNISON over the Teaching Assistant dispute, and the negotiations remain intractable, it is the Parents and some of the most vulnerable children in the City who are suffering the most during this period.
The vast majority of Teaching Assistants are employed to support children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Some of them are in mainstream schools and those with the most significant physical disabilities or behavioural conditions are educated in specialist schools. Every child is equal in their right to receive an appropriate education.
Parents of SEN children have developed finally tuned lives balancing the needs of the child, home life, relationships, work, transportation, other children etc. For those where the child has a form of autism, of which there are many, then routine and consistency is critical to their emotional state, and behaviour.
The strikes, whilst well-intentioned from the perspective of fighting against the pay cuts, have a devastating unintended consequence. This delicately balanced “house of cards”, which the Parents manage, is rent asunder, creating many random shockwaves. Parents have to take time off work to care for their children, they lose money, the child’s routine is disturbed, they become upset, their behaviour deteriorates, they are not being educated, employers start to lose patience, people lose jobs – their life starts to slowly collapse around them. But the dispute is not theirs.
Now Parents have had enough. Generally, they are sympathetic to the TAs cause, and are mindful that the TAs are being compensated by UNISON for lost pay during strike days. Parents are not – they are losing money in a dispute that they are not a direct party to…that they cannot control.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the arguments thrown about – there is one simple fact that seems to have been forgotten. The Council has a legal obligation to provide an education for the children in the City – no excuses; the Council is failing in this respect. If Parents fail to send their child to school, they are fined – the opposite should apply to the Council. Parents should be compensated during strike days. The Council owes a duty of care to these children and they are consciously complicit in forcing vulnerable children into situations which will cause distress, and possibly harm. This is unacceptable.
A group of Parents met Cllr Lisa Eldret, the Council Cabinet Member for Jobs and Fair Employment, a few weeks ago. She might have shown sympathy but provided no vision. Suggesting that Parents talk with UNISON and encourage them to call off strikes and negotiate is no answer. Parents are not negotiators, or intermediaries….just Parents who want the best for their children, from those who are obligated to deliver it.
Groups of Parents are coalescing in the community, and many ways forward are being considered including formal legal action. Questions are also being asked about whether the Council has shown a “duty of care” in the way they have conducted the negotiations, the inconsistency in the approach taken with Refuse Collectors is being examined, an issue which is the subject of an Special Investigation which could implicate Cllr Russell, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.
Education of the most vulnerable children in Derby is a declared priority for this Labour Council, it is a moral and ethical duty which must always be put ahead of political ideology. Presenting a group of principally low-paid women with pay cuts of up to 25% where it can be foreseen ( through the Equality Impact Assessment) that this could impact on a protected group in a damaging way has some very interesting, and serious, legal ramifications.
If you are parent who wishes to join in with this action, please contact me, and I can forward your details,
Categories: Teaching Assistant Dispute