As someone who recently finished their academic journey through our state primary and now secondary school system, I know the detrimental toll that nine years of ideologically Tory / Lib Dem driven austerity has had on morale, investment and focus on students from some of the poorest and deprived areas of our region. With a government besotted with creating a meritocracy through pursuing out of touch free school expanding, student testing obsessing vanity projects, there is seemingly a deliberate attempt to masquerade the true impact of privatisation and cutting of our vital support staff with these failing Tory projects. The reality is locking out the potential of UNISON members working in our education system across the UK and students who are seeing available resources to them stretched out to the limit missing out on opportunities.
The story of school cuts for me however hits closer to home, as the proud son of a mother who is a teaching assistant I have seen first hand how disregarded support staff are, and the invaluable support that UNISON can offer to them in fighting for a better deal at work. For nine years my mother has received a pay cap of 1% cutting her salary every year as inflation rises and her hours cut to cope with the ever continuing budget cuts imposed disproportionately on the poorest areas of our cities across the North East.
Recently the government announced a new outlook on school funding, promising increased investment and a greater focus on academisation. However UNISON knows all too well that the increased focus on academies is simply a way giving big business incentives to further marketise our system by giving them cash incentives to buy out failing state ran schools pushed to the edge because of their deliberate chronic underfunding. Furthermore, this dramatic ‘funding’ announcement falls short of the extra 3bn needed to fill the gaps in funding, and deliberately excludes our teaching assistants and support staff of any form of a better pay deal. It is becoming ever clearer that irrespective of which Conservative PM is behind the doors of No10 Downing Street, our schools and its staff are still seen to be a burden for this government to deal with.
I’m very proud to be an active young trade unionist and activist in UNISON, with the looming prospect of a damaging Tory Brexit and the damage it will impose on our public services, it is more imperative now than ever to be an advocate of the next generation of our workforce to be joining our growing union. Additionally with UNISONs priority campaign focused on the ‘Year of the Young Worker’ we have pushed this year for all branches to have a youth officer to amplify young workers voices on local executives, this being increasingly invaluable for young workers in education as a whole with the ever growing normalisation of teaching assistants being placed on apprenticeships which do not pay a liveable wage and do not guarantee employment post training.
The work of teaching assistant staff like my mother is invaluable. They are bedrock of any and every classroom and do not deserve this relentless undermining from a governmental department that is simply not fit for purpose.
So let this disregarding of our members be a rallying cry for unity and a mass membership drive within our branches to join the UKs biggest and best union for all school staff. We have shown our solidarity before supporting the striking TAs in Durham, let us do it once more by ensuring our school staff are unionised and ready to fight against the ever impending threat of instability and privatisation at work.
UNISON TUC National Youth Forum Rep