The annual Schools Support Staff Seminar was held on Thursday 9th May at The UNISON Centre in London, and once again the attendance of delegates from the North West was notably higher than any other region, giving testament to the importance of our members within schools in our region.
The agenda for the day was varied and vast, including keynote speeches from UNISON staff and lay activists, along with invited guests. Kevin Brennan MP for Cardiff kindly stepped in to replace the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Stephen Twigg MP, due to Stephen being called to put questions in parliament regarding the coalitions being in disarray over its childcare, a great concern being proposed changes in staff to child ratios. Kevin showed a great understanding of the problems faced in schools by our members, in particular around the health needs of children and the lack of training in this area, and the general lack of professional development for staff. He expressed his disappointment at the abolishment of the SSSNB (School Support Staff Negotiating Body) by the current coalition, and gave assurance that this issue would be on a future Labour government agenda, with a commitment to take forward re-establishment of the body if possible.
A number of workshops were held during the day, focusing on training opportunities for support staff, the Living Wage within schools, academies, universal credit and the welfare cuts and health & safety within schools, with asbestos being discussed at great length.
Pupils with health care needs in schools are the focus of joint working between UNISON and the Royal College of Nursing, hence a very detailed in depth presentation by Fiona Smith, Advisor in Children’s and Young People’s Nursing. Survey results from the joint working revealed major concerns, from staff not receiving training to undertaking quite complex medical support to schools having no policies in place covering the care provided to pupils, with remuneration for such duties not given in the majority of cases.
Organising in schools takes time and hard work by activists, and examples of the excellent work within the Richmond and Bromley branches were shared by colleagues, showing the many different approaches to engagement with school staff, organising and empowering UNISON members.
The event was well received and valued, and the North West Schools Forum will continue to input to the National Schools Committee via its representatives, and look forward to the event being held again in 2014, ensuring school members remain vital and valued within our region and the union.