June 21, 2006
From NZEI Te Riu Roa
For Immediate Use
School Support Staff Conference
Two hundred support staff working in schools throughout the country are gathering in New Plymouth for a three day conference, which starts on Friday (June 23.)
Support staff work in the country's 2579 primary and secondary schools as 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 conference is being run by NZEI Te Riu Roa, which has more than 10,000 support staff members. It includes more than 20 workshops covering professional, industrial and personal development issues.
Workshop topics include understanding and working with students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, using technology to facilitate learning, school office management, understanding and managing challenging student behaviour, internet safety, safe handling and lifting of students with disabilities, managing a payroll, issues concerning Maori and Pacific Island students, recognising child abuse, workplace rights and stress management.
"The workshops show that support staff perform a wide range of complex jobs in our schools," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Irene Cooper. "They are essential to the day to day running of all our schools and to ensuring all students, in particular those with special needs, receive a quality education."
The growing importance of their work is highlighted by the fact that the number of support staff employed in our schools has increased by 300% since the introduction of Tomorrow's Schools in 1989, which saw schools become self managing. In 1989 there were no more than a dozen distinct support staff roles in schools. Today there are 225 distinct support staff job titles.
"As a principal for the last 10 years, I've seen the impact of this enormous increase in the number of support staff and know how much schools rely on them," says Irene Cooper.
Despite the importance of their work, support staff have little or no job security, they don't get paid during term breaks, and they're 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, the same fund they use to meet all their operating costs. Because schools struggle to met all their operating costs and pay their support staff, NZEI is calling on the Government to establish a Ministerial Taskforce to develop a fairer and more effective funding system.
This is what NZEI is telling the Ministry of Education's current review of school operational funding, which includes an assessment of the mechanism for funding support staff.
"It's not a case of simply increasing operations funding, because that will still leave support staff competing with all the other costs schools have to meet from the bulk fund." says Irene Cooper.
The School Support Staff Conference begins on Friday June 23 and runs to Sunday June 25. It's being held at the Quality Hotel Plymouth International in New Plymouth.