Teaching Assistant Dispute

Teaching Assistant dispute; Council fails on Agreement and re-ignites dispute. Where did it go wrong?

In March 2017, UNISON recommended that the School Support Staff/Teaching Assistants should accept the Council’s latest offer. This was on the basis that it was substantially improved on anything that had been offered before, and was documented in a signed “Terms of Agreement”.

Nearly 6 months later, the Council has failed to deliver on any aspect of the agreement, and did not exhibit any of the “working together” and “listening” heralded by Cllr Shanker back in the Spring.

Despite the carefully worded, but opaque, and disingenuous, Council Press release, any agreement is now in tatters. The working relationship between the Council and UNISON, together with School Support Staff, worse than ever.  So where is the disagreement now?

52 week flexible contract

One of the primary reasons that School Support staff lost up to 25% of their pay was due to the change in their Terms and Conditions ; this was nothing to do with the Equal Pay Review. When the Council forced new contracts onto the staff, in June 2016, they deemed them to be part time, this meant that their original full-time pay was pro-rated down by up to 25% ( depending on contracted hours). This also meant that staff were no longer paid for every hour that they worked necessary to do their defined jobs.

A 52 week flexible contract recognises ( in line with the way that teachers are paid, nationally) that School staff’s  working pattern is, necessarily, based around term time, and that more hours than contracted are worked during that period to “bank” for the holiday period. This, annualised hours concept , is common practice in certain roles – for example: refuse collection teams, grounds staff.  This outcome was committed in the March 2017 agreement.

“The Council will work with Head Teachers and Governing Bodies to introduce a flexible hours contract for all Schools based Support Staff so that all commence a 52 week flexible contract commencing 1st Sept 2017”

The Council have simply re-confirmed the arrangements in place in March 2017 which led to the pay cut.

In the press release, the Council state:

“… including proposing a definition of the flexible 52 week contract where Teaching Assistants are paid for all the hours that they work in any week of the year and which we continue to discuss with UNISON.”

This statement does not reflect the proposal – it is not “all hours” actually worked just those that the school choose to pay. It also is not consolidated within the annual salary, as would normally be the case for routine business, and therefore, can only treated as temporary hours. This does not help with mortgage/loan applications, or for personal planning.

Special Schools/Enhanced Resource Schools restructure programme

It was recognised that in 11 schools where TAs work permanently with children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), that the grading would be reviewed to reflect the significantly more challenging conditions that these staff work under. The children have severe physical and learning difficulties with many having demanding behaviours and others with fragile medical conditions which require constant monitoring.

Base level TAs across all schools were a grade E, and they would receive a Special Classroom allowance (SCA) if one of their pupils had SEN (this was based on the school receiving additional  funding from the Council). In the new contract, those TAs in the 11 Special Schools, had their SCA removed. This meant that they would be paid less than a TA in a mainstream school working with an SEN child. This was a major anomaly.

The March 2017 agreement committed to restructure these 11 schools ; the net result being that the SEN TAs should be re-graded higher to F ( the same grade as refuse lorry drivers). The salary impact is ~+10-15%.   An existing job that had already been graded as F, by the Council’s internal grading team and checked by the UNISON expert, was forwarded to Hay ( the external graders). This was returned by them as an E – contrary to all expectations and logic.

Rather than challenging this, as committed, the Council “held their hands up” and admitted defeat. No meetings of the agreed Review Project Board took place to address this questionable outcome.

Comment

The situation is complicated – that just means that the Council should have committed more time over the last 6 months.

There is no question that the Council has reneged on the agreement. It is not clear whether the Council has finally, and very publicly demonstrated their incompetence, or a unhealthy gift for being mischievous and disingenuous for short term political gain. Their lack of engagement has not indicated any valiant, and hard fought efforts frustrated by lack of time,

Trust has now been completely lost….if, indeed, it ever existed.

UNISON will now start negotiating with each individual school. Previously, the Head Teachers were “told” that all discussions had to be done collectively, centrally. The Council has exhibited an inability to take on this significant task, competently.

The Labour Group in the Council has not taken on-board the censure of a number of their fellow groups in other cities and continues its campaign to cut the pay of low-paid women…..or in the case of Library staff, sack them.

 

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