Saturday, June 15, 2024

Wensum Trust: Teaching assistant jobs could be scrapped

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By Zoe Applegate & Andrew Turner,BBC, Norwich

Andrew Turner/BBC Daniel Thrower, CEO of Wensum TrustAndrew Turner/BBC

Wensum Trust chief executive Daniel Thrower said a consultation had been launched on whether its TA jobs should be scrapped

An academy trust revealed plans to cut all its teaching assistant posts as it struggled to cope with rising costs.

The Wensum Trust said it wanted to scrap 78 full-time equivalent roles and introduce 48 pastoral and learning positions across eight primary schools.

Chief executive Daniel Thrower said: “We really value our staff – this is a really hard decision for us to make.”

Ashley Foster, from the GMB Union, said its members had been “shocked” by the move.

Mr Thrower said the trust – which runs primary schools in Hellesdon on the outskirts of Norwich, Wells-next-the-Sea and Burnham Market, as well as three secondary schools – saw its heating bill rise by £500,000 a year, while pay increases had hiked the wage bill by £360,000 last year – and pension pay by £21,400.

He said the trust had not been given any extra money by central government, leaving it looking for more ways to save.

‘Scrimp and save’

It was a position shared by schools across the country, he added.

“Head teachers have to address their budget deficits and in order to get them back to a surplus position we try to scrimp and save where we can,” said Mr Thrower.

“Staffing levels are higher than the benchmarks, so we need to look at that in order to reduce staff to get budgets back to where they should be.

“We are not devaluing the role because we’re still going to have teaching and learning support going into our classrooms.”

Mr Thrower added that staff in the new roles would benefit from “better professional development”, making it easier for them to switch salary scales, while still being able to “connect with each and every child”.

Plans about the consultation to scrap the teaching assistant (TA) roles in favour of new Pastoral and Learning Support (PALS) jobs were shared with staff last week.

Andrew Turner/BBC Ashley FosterAndrew Turner/BBC

Ashley Foster, from GMB Union, said his members had been shocked by the proposals

GMB Union’s local organiser Mr Foster represented some workers facing job cuts and said it would like them to be offered voluntary redundancy.

“We expected that they might have been making some reductions, but the risk level to effectively make the teaching assistant role redundant shocked and scared everyone,” he said.

“I’ve never seen a PALS role used in another school before and it feels like they are taking a gamble on the children’s education.

“They are looking at a 35% reduction in staffing levels.”

Families with children at one of the schools were concerned.

Wendy Marrison has three grandchildren at Firside Junior school in Hellesdon.

She said the move was worrying and would be “detrimental to the children’s education.”

She added: “They need these teaching assistants. They’re not overly paid. If anything they’re underpaid for the work that they do, and they desperately need to keep them in the schools.”

Shaun Whitmore Paul GroomShaun Whitmore

Paul Groom is concerned about the proposal for TAs

Paul Groom said his daughter was supported by a teaching assistant with one-on-one help.

“It is a concern. TAs are important in the school because they help with more coverage.”

Tony Brown said he understood budgets at schools were stretched.

“It’s really difficult, and with the lack of funding coming centrally something needs to be done,” he said.

He wanted to find out more about the proposed changes but added: “Teaching assistants play a really valuable role and it would be sad to see them go.”

Shaun Whitmore/BBC Charlotte HumberShaun Whitmore/BBC

Parent Charlotte Humber was worried about a lack of one-to-one support for children with special educational needs if TAs were removed

Charlotte Humber, who has one child at the school, said: “I have tremendous concerns about it.

“My daughter has a one-to-one teaching assistant to manage her needs in a mainstream setting, and we’ve been told by the local authority because of this, her needs are met and therefore she isn’t entitled to an EHCP (educational health care plan).

“Obviously if they’re thinking about reducing staff members by a significant number, removing those teaching assistants, they’re then looking at increased numbers applying to go to a specialist setting.”

Another parent, Emma Gardiner said teaching assistants had helped her child, but hoped the pastoral staff could offer similar support to children.

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