But while teachers can look back over the past ten years and see the positive changes this government has made, and its continued commitment to education, can we really say the same for school support staff?
Compared to 1997 we now have twice as many support staff employed in schools, as well as the introduction of relatively new roles such as higher level teaching assistants and cover supervisors, all working alongside teachers to help them and enhance the learning of pupils. Support staff contributed a great deal in 1997, but ten years on it is now as inconceivable to imagine a school without support staff as it always was to imagine a school without teachers.
So, as teachers have had pay increases significantly above the rate of inflation and contractual changes to reduce their workload, support staff have had their roles enhanced, their contribution increased, but, in most cases, their pay has stayed more or less the same. And why is that?
I sometimes wonder if these issues are deliberately over complicated, so I’ll say it using the most straightforward language.
Teachers have national pay and terms and conditions - support staff don’t.
It’s always been the case, but has now become acutely obvious, that most local authorities have failed support staff for years and years, leaving them at the bottom of the pay scale with scant regard for their skills, abilities and expertise. We have a conference motion later this week about local authorities and schools who are deliberately ignoring the national advice on the deployment and employment of cover supervisors and higher level teaching assistants, which is yet another example that, in this case, devolution doesn’t work.
It’s time things changed.
Two years ago Ruth Kelly addressed this conference and said for the first time that the government would have to consider this issue. Two years is a long time in politics, but it’s even longer when you’re in a job that you love, which makes a massive difference, and which is vital in helping to raise standards, but are paid so poorly that you can barely afford to carry on doing it.
I met Alan Johnson two weeks ago and did not hold back in expressing our members’ views about the current position. The fact that support staff are predominantly female should have put this issue at the top of a Labour Government’s agenda, especially one committed to equality. Alan is coming to speak to you on Wednesday, and is expecting us to ask the question we always ask education secretaries - when is there going to be a national pay scale for support staff? I’m sure you will be interested in his reply.