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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 November 2009

Schools paying for the crisis

As the axe of council cuts looms and falls, with public services paying the price for the recession, school support staff are directly in the firing line.

An education worker, Huddersfield

Job losses and cuts in hours are widespread. Redundancies are only being avoided in some schools by all support staff 'pulling together' to volunteer hours so that schools can make a saving. We are paying the price, not only as workers but also as parents whose children are losing vital support in their classrooms, dining halls and playgrounds.

'Teaching on the cheap' is already widespread, with teaching assistants leant on to plan, deliver and mark lessons. Taking whole classes to cover for teachers, often for extended periods of time, is commonplace and increasing. Schools are saving money by deploying these low-paid staff to cover teachers' planning, preparation and assessment time, instead of paying qualified teachers to cover this legally required non-contact time for teaching staff.

School support staff are pressurised by bullying heads into agreeing to work extra hours, often without pay, at lunchtimes and before and after school, running clubs and activities.

A sharp increase in disciplinary cases involving school workers is already evident. Headteachers and governing bodies, in line with other employers, are turning the economic climate to their advantage, acting with a new level of brutality over sickness and misconduct policies.

Union organisation of school staff nationally is at best patchy. There are some union branches where a healthy network of members and stewards will enable workers to make their voices heard but there are others where midday supervisors, teaching assistants, caretakers, cleaners, administrators and catering staff are left fending for themselves.

It is now more crucial than ever that the vulnerable and fragmented workforce in schools is recruited into the trade unions and organised to defend not only our jobs, terms and conditions but also our children's education. We must fight to make sure that the price for this crisis of capitalism is not paid in schools.

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