The Brighton and Hove teaching assistants’ strike is caused by the Remodelling Agreement, signed by all the unions involved in education except the National Union of Teachers.
Under the guise of “recognising the professional status” of support staff, and of “improving their chances of promotion”, teaching assistants (TAs) and other support workers are being forced to work more for less pay.
Unison and the GMB signed the agreement on the understanding that their support staff members would get a clear career structure, training opportunities and better pay and grades. But schools and Local Education Authorities have attempted to carry out the project on the cheap.
Hence Brighton and Hove TAs ended up worse off at the end of the month, despite their grades being increased, because the hours they could work were reduced.
Elsewhere admin staff are being offered bigger jobs, more work. The new jobs, “Admin Assistants”, incorporate duties done by Admin Officers at higher rates of pay.
In one school in East London, admin staff are being offered job “opportunities” which include duties normally done by teachers, eg, detentions and school clubs. When the school management were asked what use a member of the admin staff could be in a detention when a qualified teacher is present, the reply was, “Well, the teacher can leave”. The training “opportunity” offered to carry out these tasks was one hour in “behaviour management”.
At the same school, admin staff are being set to work alongside Curriculum Managers and Year Heads, blurring the role between support staff and deputy year managers, with a view to eventually taking over. Meanwhile teachers are having their management point payments frozen.
The Agreement is a joke, so thinly-disguised as an advancement for support staff that even the poor leadership of our unions should have seen through it. The reason the NUT refused to sign it was because they recognised that it was an attempt to use Teaching Assistants as teachers on the cheap, replacing qualified teachers with unqualified support staff in the classroom.
TA’s are already having pressure put on them to take small groups of children out of the classroom to be “supervised” separately. These children are often those who need the most help from qualified staff. However the TA’s work frees teachers up to teach a more manageable class, and ultimately, the school’s results will look better in the league tables.
The reorganisation makes a mockery of the government’s program of inclusion where schools have to take in students who have special needs. Special schools are being closed down, disabled and statemented children are being brought into mainstream schools. Meanwhile teaching is being deskilled, Special Needs departments are being starved of cash, and, under the Remodelling Agreement, TA’s and Learning Support Assistants, the support staff who are crucial to the policy of inclusion, are being duped into working more for less pay.
In schools where union strength is low or non-existent management are getting away with more — there are tales of TAs in secondary schools taking whole classes. Yet the union leaderships are dragging their heels about pulling out.
At Unison conference this year, the leadership were defeated on the Remodelling issue, with delegates voting to halt involvement in the Agreement pending further negotiations. The leadership have not implemented this decision. Schools which began the process of changing jobs are just carrying on regardless.
The schools and education authorities that do this will not call their actions “remodelling”. But that is what it is.
Support staff union activists on the ground have got to take a very clear stance of:
• refusing to take on any extra work without proper grading reviews;
• rejecting any downward change in their hours or pay, just as Brighton and Hove are doing;
• refusing to take any work which encroaches on teaching or teachers’ pastoral roles;
• linking up with NUT activists to defend both teachers’ and support workers’ conditions in schools
And, most of all, they have got to follow Brighton and Hove’s lead and take action. If we all start taking action and link the disputes up, we can defeat the Remodelling Agreement.
This would punch a hole through the government’s education-on-the-cheap policy, and would show their League Tables and their so-called inclusion policies for what they really are. Lies!
By a teaching assistant