New era for school support staff in Wales

Campaigning public services union UNISON is heralding the start of a new era for school learning support staff in Wales.

From today (Friday), learning support staff must be registered with the Education Workforce Council (EWC), which UNISON says marks the first step in recognising their hard work in our schools.

Learning support workers or teaching assistants do all those vital but often overlooked jobs in our schools, supporting children with special educational needs and underperforming children, and helping teachers manage large classes.

In preparation for the EWC registration, UNISON undertook a comprehensive listening exercise in schools across Wales, meeting with thousands of learning support workers.

The message from staff in each school was: professional registration must be supported with professional rates of pay and conditions of service.

Typically, teaching assistants suffer low pay, poor career opportunities and access to training.

Teachers have nationally agreed uniform rates of pay but the salaries of Wales’ thousands of teaching assistants vary depending on where they work.

This is because pay is set by each of the 22 local authorities and experience and responsibility are not always recognised in the pay structure.

Locally determined pay can give rise to glaring disparities in wages for people performing the same role.

For example, a Level 1 teaching assistant in Neath Port Talbot earns £40 a week less than a colleague of the same grade in Caerphilly.

This would amount to a startling difference of £2,000 if hourly earnings were projected over one year.

Jess Turner, UNISON Cymru/Wales lead organiser for schools, said: “It takes a whole team to make a great education, and the EWC has recognised the important contribution of learning support staff.

“Now there is an onus on Welsh government to deliver fair wages and we’re asking for a transparent national pay structure.

“How many other jobs would have 22 different rates of pay for doing exactly the same job?

“UNISON will also continue to campaign for decent training and qualifications for learning support staff paid for by the employer.”

Notes to editors

As at 31.3.16, a Level 1 teaching assistant in Neath Port Talbot earned £7.11ph (below the new national living wage starting today), and a colleague of the same grade in Caerphilly, £8.26ph.

The difference of £1.15ph amounts to over £40.00pw on full time working.

Most teaching assistants work part-time and are only paid for term-time work. H

However, both Neath Port Talbot and Caerphilly also publish a per annum salary for a full-time Level 1 teaching assistant as: Caerphilly: £15,941; Neath Port Talbot: £13,715; a difference of £2,226.

  • Some learning support staff are forced to pay for their own training.
  • Some learning support staff work without a proper written and agreed job description.
  • Part-time, casual and term-time working dominates.
  • Welsh Ministers have for years agreed in principle that a national structure for learning support staff is necessary.
  • UNISON has been campaigning for local authorities to pay the EWC registration fee for all learning support workers in Wales. Concerted lobbying from the union has resulted in half of Welsh authorities making that commitment to date.