On 24 April, well over a hundred UNISON activists from across Britain came together in Brighton for a terrific day that not even the persistent drizzle could spoil.
The Schools Support Staff Seminar is a mixture of workshops and talks, with this year’s special guest being Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education: a former UNISON activist herself.
We were delighted that she was there to open the day with an inspirational talk that focused on her plans for a new National Education Service. ‘Schools are not commodities’ she told the conference room, promising a fully comprehensive state education system that will return local accountability. Referring to the recent scandal over the wages of some multi-academy trust staff, she further promised to end the paradox of schools paying excessive salary’s whilst claiming that ‘support staff could not be afforded’. She called on UNISON members to lead the fight back against the ruinous effects of Tory austerity cuts.
The next speaker was UNISON’s Assistant General Secretary Christina McAnea, who was previously our National Secretary for Education. ‘When we join together we make big advancements’ she said; ‘if you want to be heard, speak in UNISON’. National Secretary Jon Richards followed, with a promise not to forget schools support staff, a section of the education community that has long been neglected by the current government.
Delegates were able to sign up for a variety of interesting and helpful short workshops, which included ‘Autism’, ‘School Cuts and Equality Impact Assessments’, and ‘Cyber Bullying’. Those attending the latter were asked to assess new guidance being produced for members to protect both them and the pupils in their care. School kitchen workers can often feel removed from their colleagues and a dedicated workshop ‘Organising School Meal Workers’ recommended lots of ways in which they could be made to feel valued.
Teresa Day, director of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, also spoke at the event. The Trust is dedicated to the memory of Charlie Waller, a young man who took his own life whilst suffering from depression, and aims to help young people overcome issues caused by mental health. Teresa praised the vital work of school support staff in helping vulnerable pupils and called for an end to budget cuts, saying that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’.
By the time Chair of UNISON’s national Schools Committee Pam Howard made her closing remarks, so much had been packed into the seminar that it was hard to believe it all took place on a single day! Roll on 2019!