June 13, 2006
From NZEI Te Riu Roa
For Immediate Use
Schools Celebrate Vital Role of Support Staff
Tomorrow the country's schools celebrate Support Staff Day (Wed June 14) to highlight the vital role their support staff play in educating the country's children.
The event is organised by NZEI Te Riu Roa, which has more than 10,000 support staff members. The union estimates there are a total of around 27,000 support staff working in the country's 2579 schools. These include administrative staff, finance managers, teacher aides, technicians, librarians, caretakers, cleaners, kaiarahi i te reo (fluent Maori speakers) and health support workers such as therapists and nurses.
"The posters for the Support Staff Day celebrations describe support staff as the key to a successful school," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Irene Cooper. "That sums up how important they are to every school in the country."
Schools rely on their support staff to carry out essential administrative work. To ensure every student receives a quality education, particularly those with special needs. And to ensure all schools are clean and well maintained.
"Despite the essential work they do, school support staff have little or no job security," says Irene Cooper. "They also don't get paid during term breaks and are among the lowest paid workforces in the country, with pay rates that start at just $11.84 an hour."
This is because their jobs are bulk funded from each school's operations grant. Schools have to meet all their operating costs and pay their support staff from their grant. They struggle to do so and often have to cut a support staff workers' hours, usually a teacher aide, to enable them to pay the schools' bills.
"Cutting a teacher aide's hours means cutting their pay and cutting the education programmes they help to deliver," says Irene Cooper. "This is unfair on the teacher aide, the students and teachers they work with, and the board and principal who have been forced to take this action."
It's clear bulk funding support staff salaries is failing. This is why NZEI is calling on the Government to establish a Ministerial Taskforce to develop a fairer and more effective funding system.
The union called for this in a submission to the education and science select committee in March. And again last month, when Budget 2006 included an increase in operations funding, but only enough to cover inflation.
"Simply increasing operations funding will not solve the problem of paying support staff," says Irene Cooper. "That's because they will still be competing with all the other costs, such as ICT, that schools have to meet from this bulk fund."
Irene Cooper says this is the message NZEI has given to the Ministry of Education's review of school operational funding, which includes an assessment of the current mechanism for funding support staff.
"It's encouraging that the School Trustees Association, the Principals Federation, the Secondary Principals Association, the PPTA, and other groups overseeing the review, recognise the need to address the funding issue," say Irene Cooper. "But it's crucial that we move to the next step and start work on developing a fairer and more effective system for funding support staff."