School support staff lodge 12.7% pay claim

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Unions representing school support staff are demanding a 12.7% pay rise from April and better recognition of SEND expertise in the formal pay and conditions of teaching assistants.

The GMB, Unite, and UNISON – which represent 1.4 million school and council employees in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – have formally submitted the pay claim to the local government pay negotiating body, the National Joint Council (NJC).

The unions are claiming 12.7% as this equates to the RPI rate of inflation of 10.7% (as forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility) plus 2%.

The claim also asks employers to “consider the introduction of a minimum pay rate of £15 per hour over the next two years”.

Last term, the unions agreed a deal with employers that saw staff paid an extra £1,925 this financial year – backdated to April 2022.

However, the latest pay claim says that this rise has been “completely wiped out by rising household costs”.

It says that pay levels at the bottom end of the scale have fallen below the £10.90 UK Foundation Living Wage. It points out that the lowest rate of pay under the NJC will only be 18p behind the legal minimum wage (£10,42 from April).

The unions say that pay for their members has been cut in real-terms by more than 25% since 2010 due to pay freezes, below inflation pay rises, and the rising cost of living.

The claim states: “With rapid inflation and stagnant pay growth pushing people into poverty, the TUC and NJC unions are calling on the government to set a £15 per hour minimum wage target by 2030.

“NJC pay would need to rise by at least 4.5% annually from 2023 to reach a £15 per hour minimum by 2030. If this (pay) claim was met – and subsequent NJC pay awards maintained similar levels – the NJC could reach a £15 minimum as early as 2025.”

Teaching assistants are cited in the claim – a TA (Level 2) who was earning £16,830 in 2010 can now expect to be earning £21,968 in 2022/23, a real-terms cut of 23.7%. Higher level teaching assistants, meanwhile, have seen pay move from £23,708 to £29,439 over the same period, a 29.1% real-terms cuts.

The unions are also calling for the National Agreement on Pay and Conditions – known as the Green Book – to recognise the significant SEND expertise that now exists within the teaching assistant workforce.

Currently, teachers in England working in special schools or with a designated SEN class or unit in mainstream schools are entitled to an SEN allowance of between £2,300 and £4,700.

The claim states: “Classroom-based support staff spend the majority of their time supporting SEN pupils, and our members have built up genuine and hard-to-replace expertise. Teaching assistant recruitment and retention is a growing challenge for employers. These specialisms should be recognised.

“We call on the employers to recognise that SEN specialisms are not currently accounted for in the Green Book and to agree to a review of job evaluation outcomes for school staff whose day-to-day work includes working on SEND.”

Writing in Headteacher Update last month, Joanna Parry, national officer for education and children's services at UNISON, said that the cost of living has hit school support staff hard.

A UK-wide survey of more than 6,000 teaching assistants, administrative staff, catering workers, cleaners, librarians and technicians – all UNISON members – found that 98% said they are concerned that their pay isn’t enough to cover the spiralling cost of living.
More than a quarter (27%) said they had taken second (or in some cases third) jobs to make ends meet and 49% are “actively looking for other jobs”.

Ms Parry writes: “The exodus of support staff of course heaps even more pressure on the colleagues they leave behind, who find themselves stretched even more thinly.”

One UNISON member told researchers: “I can't afford to put my heating on right now and am cutting down on food by skipping meals for myself so I can feed my 10-month-old.”

Another added: “I’ve been trying to get a mortgage, but I don't earn enough. If I don't get a different, better-paid job by September, I’ll have to sell my home. I'm now looking to leave the job after 16 years.”

Employees covered by the claim include refuse collectors, librarians, teaching assistants, care workers, cleaners, and catering staff. Many of these jobs are often low-paid, earning little more than the minimum wage.

The unions maintain that unless councils pay competitive rates, workers will find better-paid, less-stressful work elsewhere. They argue that staff have also faced increased workloads because of austerity cuts since 2010.

UNISON’s head of local government Mike Short said: “Council and school workers provide invaluable services. They keep communities safe, educate future generations and look after the most vulnerable.

“But councils can’t function without staff. Many workers are struggling to make ends meet and unless they’re paid properly, more will quit for better paid work elsewhere.
“Employers must make a decent pay offer. And the government needs to invest properly in the local government and school workforce to ensure important services are fit for the future.”

GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison added: “School support staff, refuse collectors, traffic wardens, social workers and more –the people who suffered from the government’s failed austerity policies and were on the frontline of the pandemic.

“And what’s their reward? Year after year of real-terms pay cuts, slowly grinding down their standard of living. It’s time local government employers gave workers a proper pay rise that will make their lives better. Their message is clear – we’re worth more.”

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