By Martin Hodge, Professional Officer (Policy & Research Services) for August 2016 Your Voice
The outlook is bleak in the North East and the East Midlands as the last few local authorities complete their Equal Pay Reviews. Given that this process started in 1997 (and amended in 2004) you would have hoped that those authorities that waited would have been able to learn the lessons of those that went before, but over the last 15 years we have seen the same things time and again. And things are not looking bright in Derby and Durham.
It is important to recognise the key issues.
- The local authority (LA) is technically the employer, but has little jurisdiction as each school controls its own recruitment and staffing.
- Local authorities are under pressure to ensure that all employees are paid equally for roles which have been evaluated as comparable. (Because of equal pay issues, Birmingham City Council had to sell the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).)
- Education budgets are being cut across the board.
- Each school is a mini business with its own targets, budget and governing board.
None of this matters if you are a teaching assistant (TA) in Derby City who stands to lose your home because of a 25% reduction in salary, thanks to a combination of:
- job evaluation downgrading;
- a move to a 37 hour working week, effectively making you (on a 32.5 hour week) part-time;
- term-time only employment, further reducing your salary by 15%.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Derby City Council’s own report concludes that it has still failed the equality test.
TAs’ support immeasurable
The impact of TAs and other classroom support staff is immeasurable – highly-skilled and flexible support dedicated to the school and the children. No teacher who has had the support of an effective TA wishes to work without one. No headteacher who has reaped the benefits of smaller group sizes, accelerated learning, extended provision and increased learning opportunities wants them to cease. The fact remains, though, that TAs are feeling undervalued and unappreciated.
Understandably, the TAs blame the headteachers – who are blaming the local authority – which is blaming the Government… but what can be done?
Voice has been a part of a national campaign to raise the profile of TAs, including through the creation of national standards. General Secretary Deborah Lawson was ‘furious’ about the Government’s decision not to proceed with the standards: ‘The message this gives is alarming. It is treating teaching assistants as second class citizens by denying them the professional recognition they deserve’. [A copy of the draft standards is available here.]
In many Derby and Durham schools, headteachers themselves have been standing up for their TAs and trying to minimise the impact of the Equal Pay Review by offering additional hours. The heads have no additional funds to support this, but understand the huge value of their TAs and the extra that they give to their school.
Sadly, not all schools are doing this and not all TAs are being treated the same, and this is just another example of inequality across the local authority.
Voice is committed to standing up for TAs and supporting them to achieve the recognition and remuneration they deserve, but for now it seems that whatever is offered is just making it worse. TA Helen Voss commented that ‘there are many moments to make me smile’, but the Equal Pay Review is one thing guaranteed to put a dampener on even the most ardent optimist.