Education news

Misunderstood school support workers more than 'mums' army' - union

School support staff are not just a "mums' army" who "wash paint pots and create displays"

SCHOOL support staff are not just a "mums' army" who "wash paint pots and create displays", a union has warned.

There is a "gross misunderstanding" of school support workers - such as teaching assistants, caretakers, bursars and admin staff - while many are feeling undervalued by schools and communities, members of the UK's largest teaching union, the National Education Union, argued.

Delegates at the NEU's (ATL section) annual conference in Liverpool debated a motion that argued: "Support staff members are still not being respected as a valued and professional part of the education workforce."

It added: "There is a gross misunderstanding of the varied and vital roles that support staff undertake within education, leading to misconceptions about the value and professional standing of this essential and diverse workforce. These misconceptions mean that support staff are often left behind or left out when it comes to training and development, stifling chosen career paths.

"Also, there is still the perception that support staff are a 'mums' army' who do little more than wash paint pots and create displays. The reality is much different."

The NEU is made up of members of the NUT in Britain and the ATL which has members from Britain and Northern Ireland.

A poll conducted by the NEU of around 1,700 members working as teaching assistants, cover supervisors, administrators and lab technicians found that nearly eight in 10 (78 per cent) say they regularly do overtime each week.

Around a third said they work more than two days extra a month, while 13 per cent work at least seven extra hours a week - equivalent to an additional day.

A third (33 per cent) said they rarely or never take their full lunch break, while two-fifths (40 per cent) rarely or never take a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break.

Many of those told the union that their statutory 20-minute lunch break is often cut short for reasons such as detentions, first aid duty, running clubs and supervising school trips.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said that in well-run schools, support staff were well-used, and given professional development and training.

But she added: "Unfortunately, in too many schools they are not deployed well enough. Not enough thought is given to how support staff are used, and not enough thought is given also to the range of skills and abilities they have."

Dr Bousted also said: "I think many support staff, although they are doing a very highly professional job, too often don't feel enough a part of the school community and valued enough by the school and by the school leadership."

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