Aberdeenshire UNISON


Report on Teaching Support Staff Meetings
held in December 2006

Nine meetings of UNISON members who are teaching support staff, were held in different venues across Aberdeenshire.

The meetings were held to update members on the classroom assistant grievance; the proposals for the post of learning assistant; and the Equal Opportunities Commission investigation into the role of classroom assistants/teaching support staff called Valuable Assets. They were also an opportunity for members to give their views and to seek advice.

General views and comments
Comments on the proposed post of learning assistant
Single status
Service reviews
Continuous professional development
School trips and concerts

General: There was a general sense that many teaching support staff members feel demoralised and undervalued by the employer. Some identified that this had worsened over the last year. Many kept going only because they love their job and they are committed to the children they support.

Many concerns were expressed by both classroom assistants and SFL auxiliaries about the proposals on the learning assistant post - and classroom assistants were particularly aggrieved at the Council's refusal to offer them equal pay compensation and failure even to respond to their grievance within the timescales.

Members expressed the view that although their role was valued by teachers and parents, it was not fully understood, nor valued by the Council. Members believe that their roles have helped to raise the standards of children's education across Aberdeenshire, but that the proposed changes have not recognised this.

The main issues which arose were in relation to the proposed post of learning assistant.


Learning assistant post: The following concerns were identified about the existing proposals.

  • Classroom assistants and SFL auxiliaries undertake a range of tasks across Aberdeenshire, depending on the needs within the particular school. They work across various levels of responsibility and there are questions as to how this will be reflected within a single post. There is concern at a "one size fits all" approach and a view that there is room for more than one role.
  • Members are on different contracts, hours of employment and other conditions of service, depending on whether they are SFL auxiliaries or classroom assistants. They are concerned to know how the proposals will affect that.
  • There was a view that the roles and tasks are not interchangeable. People have applied for their current posts because that is what they want to do, or because it is consistent with their particular skills and abilities. They may not wish or be suited to other tasks or roles.
  • There was particular concern from staff who work in special needs schools, as to how their particular skills will be recognised.
  • There was also concern that some tasks just won't be done. This is a particular worry because members already have experience of support hours being cut whilst pupils' support needs remain consistent or are increasing.
  • Members would be concerned about any requirement to change schools or roles. They had concerns about how this would work in practice and would need more information about this if it is planned.
  • Training issues: Although further training has been promised members are asking how this will be funded when at present, there seems to be no money for training even in basics like First Aid. Despite this lack of training or retraining, many members are being expected to administer first aid. Others are expected to work one to one with children with medical needs but have not been given the relevant training. Some members have not yet been put forward for the PDA Classroom Assistant course, despite this being part of their contract.
  • Members wanted more information about what training would be available for staff who are obliged to change roles. Members also wanted to know how additional training and qualifications would be recognised.
  • Concerns were expressed that members are being asked to take on more and more responsibilities yet are still being underpaid with the prospect of wages being lowered and losing increments.
  • A key issue which came up at almost every meeting was the need for a career grade structure for teaching support staff, and a view that this may address a number of the concerns. However, the proposal for a learning assistant post does not provide for this and there was a view that in fact it will make it a job rather than a career, as it removes any opportunity for qualifications and progression. There was a view that the interim report Valuable Assets, offered a positive way forward for a career grade structure.
  • Although some schools are using the term "learning assistants" it has been confirmed by the council that no agreement has yet been reached.


Other issues

Single Status: There was concern that the Job Family into which classroom assistants and SFL auxiliaries have been placed does not properly reflect the jobs they do. There are also inconsistencies across the Council in respect of some specialist posts such as behaviour support workers. Members were advised on the appeals process and the support they will get from UNISON if they wish to appeal.

Pay: It was noted that classroom assistants in Aberdeen City are on a higher rate of pay than those in Aberdeenshire, and were also offered equal pay compensation.

Service reviews: It is understood that the proposals for learning assistants will be looked at again as part of the service reviews. There is no agreement yet on how these will be taken forward.

Continuous professional development: Some members queried what the expectations were of CPD as some staff are being asked to do this and others are not. It also seems that some are being expected to do it in their own time and at their own expense whilst others are being given time out of their working hours. Some staff are not allowed to claim overtime or time in lieu for attending courses even though most of the courses they are being offered are out of working hours or even in holidays. A need was identified for greater consistency.


School trips and concerts: Some members asked for clarification on extra hours for school trips, concerts etc as some are being expected to do this on a voluntary basis as a "good-will gesture". UNISON believes this is unacceptable and has written to the council expressing concern about this and seeking action to address this matter.

Contacts: At the meetings a number of you said you would be UNISON contacts for your schools. Thank you.


Inez Teece Kate Ramsden Bob Revie