Owen Temple & Margaret Nealis

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Why councillors should not have rubber stamped the Teaching Assistant Deal until they knew the full details

by Owen Temple on 22 June, 2017

I won’t have won many friends at County Hall yesterday by arguing that the decision on the TA deal should be delayed whilst councillors looked at the small print, but I make no apology.

The deal that is being offered is much better than the one that was to be imposed on TAs twelve months ago, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good enough.

I’m not naive, and I know that the council had to address the appalling mish-mash of contracts that it had issued to TAs over the last five or more years. Those contracts meant that some TAs earned massively less than some others who were doing exactly the same work on exactly the same pay grades. That is unequal and unfair. And I also know that school budgets could not stand lifting everyone to the level of the most favourable contracts, so that wasn’t a feasible way forward.

That’s why, if the council had offered a deal where the overall cost of the TA workforce remained the same as now, and was reallocated amongst TAs in a more equitable way, I would have backed it, unpopular though it would probably have been with those TAs who would have had to lose some pay in order that their disadvantaged colleagues received equal pay.

What is clear to me, however, is that the deal approved by Labour councillors does not provide that cost neutral solution.

On request, the Director of Resources provided me with figures that show that the total wage bill of teaching assistants on DCCs payroll is currently £36.3 million.

Leaving aside pay protection, the figure if they were were put onto the new grades today would be £34.5 million.

That’s a reduction of £1.8 million, or 4.5%.

That over simplifies the position, however, because changes to the grades that teaching assistants have moved onto can affect how many increments they can expect in the future, and will probably mean some improvement overall. I accept that, but haven’t got to the bottom of it yet, and that’s the crux of why I believe we should not have been asked to make a decision today on what we have not yet been able to evaluate completely.

Nor have we had the chance to weigh up exactly why some pay grades seem to have been abandoned completely for TAs in this process. The effect of that is critical for some people. If you were on a particular grade, and it has been abandoned, you are on a real cliff edge which will exaggerate the loss for anyone who cannot be lifted onto a higher grade. Moving to 40 week pay instead of 52 week pay means that just staying on the same grade ensures that you lose money. If that grade disappears, and you cannot justify being moved up one, you have to be dropped a grade which hits you with a double whammy. I believe that is why the losses to a relatively small number of TAs are dramatic and terrifying for them.

This cliff-edge has never been explained to councillors, nor the reasons why it has been introduced.

That was the second element of why I believed we should delay the decision. If you don’t understand the detail, you shouldn’t make the decision.

Outcome of this issue is now out of councillors’s hands again; it is in the hands of those teaching assistants who are in Unison. I do not presume to know what course of action they should choose when they are balloted, still less what they will choose. What I am sure of is that they need to pursue the fine details of the deal to make sure they know what they are choosing for both themselves and their colleagues.


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