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Supporting the Education Team

The National Education Debate
The UNISON Scotland Initial Response

July 2002

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to be involved in the National Debate on Education
  • We represent thousands of workers who make up the majority of support staff employed in Scottish schools.
  • Support staff are part of the whole Education Team but do not believe they are as valued or recognised as much as their teacher colleagues.
  • Support staff do not see their value recognised in either status terms or in the salary and conditions given to them.
  • Support staff are not afforded equality of access to training and professional development.
  • They are concerned at the effects the McCrone Report will have on them, as work previously carried out by teachers is cascaded down to them.

  • UNISON Scotland believes that Scottish schools should be funded on a fully comprehensive basis as the best way of ensuring equal treatment for every child, irrespective of background.
  • UNISON believes that children should be taught respect for themselves and tolerance for others.
  • There is no place in our schools for racism or any other form of discrimination.
  • UNISON Scotland is conducting several campaigns at present which affect our schools and the support staff who work in them. These include:
    • Free School Meals for all school children
    • Opposition to PPP/PFI in our schools
    • Better pay, career structure and status for Nursery Nurses
    • Analysis of the pay and conditions of Classroom Assistants
    • Fair treatment for those classed as Term Time Workers



Feedback was obtained by organising focus groups, meetings and telephone questionnaires

The people we consulted were UNISON members who represent support staff working in Scottish Education.

They include:

Nursery Nurses Janitors

Classroom Assistants Careers Staff

Admin & Clerical Staff School Librarians

Technicians School Meals Staff

Special Needs Staff Cleaners

School Auxiliaries Care Staff

Outdoor Education Workers School Nurses

Educational Psychologists Community Education Workers

Education Department Staff Maintenance & Ground Staff


UNISON Scotland represents thousands of support workers in schools across Scotland. The work that cleaners, janitorial staff , maintenance and school meals staff do ensures that our schools are clean and in good order and that our children are fed during the day. School secretaries, administrative and clerical staff ensure that schools are administrated and run efficiently. Nursery nurses directly teach pre-school children and school auxiliaries, special needs staff, care workers, educational psychologists assist children with special needs. Classroom assistants help primary school children with their studies and technicians, school librarians, outdoor recreational workers help secondary school children to carry out their studies and expand their intellectual and physical horizons. Administrative staff working in education head offices are involved in allocating budgets, they are responsible for allocating clothing grants, they deal with personnel matters, such as arranging supply staff and they are involved in planning education structures, etc.

Most of these staff are involved in all aspects of the school life and form a large part of the "Education Team". However, in many respects they feel the contribution they make to children's education is not recognised either in status or often in monetary rewards. For example, in the pack and video which introduced the National Debate on Education, support staff were not mentioned at all. They feel their professionalism and expertise is not taken into account when, for example, new systems are being introduced. Teachers are consulted as of right, but support staff do not seem to be. Support staff feel they have a valuable contribution to make in planning the direction in which education is going and would welcome the opportunity to be consulted.

We are also aware of the effects some of the proposals contained in the McCrone report will have on support staff. We of course welcome the prospect of additional staff such as bursars, administrative and ICT support over the next few years. Nevertheless we are concerned that the

aim of reducing the work teachers do that is "not directly related to their key role in teaching and learning" will mean additional tasks being cascaded down to current support staff without necessarily any increase in income. We welcome the proposed audit of the number of additional support staff required which is to be completed by March 2004. We understand the need for teachers' skills and experience to be deployed in the most effective way but would wish the skills and expertise of support staff to be equally valued and effectively deployed.

All of the staff we consulted said that they were particularly concerned that they are not afforded the same training opportunities as those given to teaching staff and they are not therefore able to undertake professional development. Lack of resources appears to be the main reason for this, which does not enable cover to be provided for them to receive on the job training. Teachers have in-service days but not support staff. The McCrone report highlighted the issue of professional development for teachers. We would wish the same standards to apply to support staff.


Current Initiatives

UNISON Scotland is involved in several initiatives around the Education Service at present.

  • The campaign for Free School Meals aims to provide a free nutritious meal for all pupils in local authority schools in Scotland. We believe this would assist in tackling poverty and social exclusion; address poor nutrition standards in Scotland, which cause health problems for children and in la ter life; provides sustenance that aids learning, attendance and behaviour. The introduction of a free school meal on a daily basis would demonstrate a caring Scotland, nurturing its young people and providing for the future health and wellbeing of our nation. (Full response can be found on www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/schoolmeals.html
  • UNISON Scotland is also opposed to the use of PFI for provision of our schools. We are committed to publicly delivered public services that meet the needs of Scotland's people, which includes a publicly delivered education system for all. Last month the Accounts Commission's report into current PFI schools schemes endorsed much of what UNISON has being saying about PFIs and value for money. We have a range of objections to PFI based on our members' experiences. We believe it does not provide value for money, lacks transparency, creates a two-tier workforce, and is failing to deliver. It is clear that PFI and PPPs do not benefit the pupils, teachers, janitors and cleaners in our schools. Rather it is big business — the contractors, lawyers and bankers — who are winning with PFI. (See previous briefings at:



  • We are also involved in a major campaign to improve the status and the pay and conditions of our Nursery Nurses, for which a petition was presented to the Scottish Parliament in June 2002. We believe that nursery education is vital to children's later development as it allows them to interact with their peers, explore skills through play, and can help them in all aspects of their development in a relaxed, pressure-free environment.
  • The next group of workers we are to target is Classroom Assistants, following the launch of an initiative in England and Wales and the proposed introduction later this year, of new SVQs for this group of staff.
  • For the last few years, UNISON has been campaigning for improved conditions for support staff who receive no income during school holidays, or receive lower wages than they merit, to annualise out their pay over 52 weeks, to compensate for the holidays. Local authorities in Scotland have a variety of solutions to the problem of term time workers. We would wish the issue addressed on a Scottish-wide basis. The problem is compounded for many workers who do not receive wages, but who are then denied Job Seekers Allowance. UNISON attempted to seek redress by mounting a legal challenge but this was not successful.

Feedback Form

Not all of the issues we wish to raise fit easily into the questions posed in the feedback form, nevertheless, we have tried to answer as many of these in the manner requested.

Question 1. What are the best things about school education in Scotland?

The Scottish Executive provides a free, fully comprehensive education system for all children in Scotland. Every child is guaranteed a place in a school and free education up to the age of 18 if they and their parents desire, regardless of their income or background.

Whilst there has a greater emphasis on testing children in our schools over the last 20 years, Scotland has not been as rigid or prescriptive as the system in England and Wales.


Question 2. What should be improved about the education system in Scotland?

Our members identified in particular gaps in the transition between the three school phases — nursery, primary and secondary. This causes difficulty firstly in the move from nursery to primary schools. Nursery staff are required to assess pupils using a 72 point system, but they are not convinced that any cognisance is taken of these assessments once the child enters primary school.

The 5 — 14 curriculum crosses primary and secondary schools and difficulties are perceived in straddling these two systems. Because of the work done in primary schools some students are well ahead of the assessed stage when they enter secondary school and this can lead to a marked fall in performance in Secondary 1 and more particularly, Secondary 2.

UNISON believes that equality of opportunity should be emphasised more in the education system and that this should be delivered in fully comprehensive schools. We believe that there is no room in our schools for sexual, gender-based or racial discrimination. Schools should encourage an acceptance of diversity and expose children to a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures.

We believe that children should receive greater experience of multiculturalism in their education to enable them to reach a high level of understanding and tolerance of those from different cultures.

UNISON believes that ethnic and gender monitoring should be conducted to ensure that equality of opportunity really is provided in our education system. This, however must be carried out in a sensitive and consensual basis involving pupils, parents and staff to ensure that no misunderstandings can occur about the purpose of such monitoring.

Question 3. What should children learn?

As well as the obvious basics of being able to read, write, understand numbers and arithmetic, our members felt that children should be taught to respect themselves and others.

They should be taught how to function in a multi-cultural society, being tolerant and valuing other cultures. There is no place in our schools for racist attitudes and all attempts must be made to eradicate these wherever they exist.

It is important that children are given support to enable them to emerge from school with social skills, and a knowledge of how to become emotionally mature and physically healthy adults, as well as with their intellectual abilities tested and perfected to the best of their abilities.

Question 4. Should all children be taught the same things or should different children focus on different things?

It is important that children are taught at the correct stages for them, and that they are not pushed into tasks that are inappropriate or too advanced for them. The achievements of, say, special needs children should be recognised as important in themselves, and not measured in terms of the normal curriculum. Teachers, appropriate support staff and parents should all be involved in setting the relevant targets for individual children.

Question 5. What else should young people have when they leave school, apart from their exam results?

Children should leave school with a greater knowledge of the world of work than they currently receive in the education system. Firstly, more work experience is considered vital to teach pupils what work itself is like and how to work in team situations with their fellow workers. They should also be given knowledge of how trade unions work and how they can be supported in their working life by trade unions. Alongside this would come a greater knowledge of their rights at work under such legislation as the Health & Safety at Work Act, sex discrimination and equal pay legislation.

UNISON Scotland outlined its views on the above in a response to the Enterprise & Lifelong Learning Department's consultation on "The Review of Education for Work and Enterprise". (Full response available: http://www.unisonscotland.org.uk/response/enterprise.html

How should children learn?

Question 6. How can we get children more interested in learning?

Our members were of the view that there was too much testing carried out in Scottish Education although it was accepted that the level of testing in Scottish schools was not as rigid as that in England and Wales. Nevertheless, it was believed that this has meant too much pressure on academic achievement which in turn has left less time to be spent on other pursuits such as reading, use of libraries, internet use for general learning, rather than purely for academic attainment.

Our groups also considered other forms of learning, such as distance and Internet use, but did not believe that the correct social and emotional development would be gained by these methods which were felt to be isolationist.

Question 7. How can the school system help each child develop to its full potential? How can we most effectively meet the needs of those requiring additional support and those who do not?

UNISON Scotland believes firmly that pre-school education is crucial to develop our children to their full potential. Because of the decrease in family sizes, it is important that children learn to interact with their peer group and pre-school education plays a key role in this aspect of development. Pre school education is often the first place that any physical or learning difficulties are diagnosed, enabling any necessary treatment to be started as early as possible. It also gives children the opportunity to explore early maths, reading and writing skills in a less pressurised environment. It aids development of physical, cognitive, social, emotional and language skills which are essential for later learning throughout the school life.

The use of support staff such as classroom assistants, technicians, outdoor recreational staff all have a part to play in children's continuing development and professional development of these staff must be provided in order that the assistance they give children is of the highest quality.

As outlined above, the needs of all children must be taken into account on an individual basis, by ensuring that all education is child centred. This is especially necessary for children with special needs who must be given education which is appropriate for their stages of development.

We believe that measures to aid the health and well being of our children are important to ensuring that they can have opportunities to learn to the best of their abilities. Initiatives to improve children's diet, for example, the Glasgow proposals to provide a free, healthy breakfast for each child are welcomed, but we believe that the introduction of a free school meal to all pupils across Scotland would be even more beneficial.

We also believe that our children would benefit from more physical activity in their school day. Apart from more PE lessons in schools we would like to see greater use of the outdoor recreational centres. As well as being in the outdoors, experiencing a range of activities, such as abseiling, canoeing, etc. teach children valuable skills such as team working, map reading, orienteering, etc.

Who can help children learn?

Question 8. Who ought to be involved in helping children to learn in future? What skills will these people need?

As stated above, UNISON Scotland believes that the whole Education team is involved in children's education. Whilst accepting that teachers provide formal academic lessons, there are many ways in which children are taught to become citizens of our country and support staff are involved in most of these.

Children are helped with their academic work and their socialisation processes in various ways by many people during their school life. These include nursery nurses from their pre-school years; staff they meet at primary schools: classroom assistants, admin staff, janitors and cleaners, school nurses, school auxiliaries added to at secondary school by technicians, librarians and careers staff.

We have stressed the importance of the whole education team throughout our response and would reiterate that all of these people with their different skills come into daily contact with children during their time at school. The tasks that are carried out are all interdependent on the other. One group of staff is not more important than the other — they all perform tasks that are necessary to make education a rounded experience for all of our children. We believe support staff should be equally valued and their contribution to education recognised.

To support them adequate training and professional development must be made available and learning opportunities such as Return to Learn and other Lifelong Learning initiatives should be offered.

We are concerned that the current practice of refurbishing and rebuilding schools using PPP or PFI schemes will break up the education team. In many cases support staff such as janitors, maintenance staff and cleaners have been transferred to the private sector with the fabric of the building, leading to a two-tier workforce employed by a different employer on different terms and conditions.

When should children learn?

Question 10. At what age should children start school?

We feel that children in Scotland should start school a year later than they do at present, i.e. at 6 years. We would also want two years pre-school education guaranteed for each child prior to them reaching 6.

We would wish the leaving age to remain at 16. Nevertheless we feel that as many children as possible should be encouraged to leave at 17 or 18.

Question 11. Are the current holidays a good arrangement and should they be standardised across Scotland?

As stated in the Introduction, many support staff working in schools are considered to be Term Time Workers and either receive no wages during school holidays, or have their wage rate reduced to annualise their pay over 52 weeks, so that they receive a wage during the holiday period.

In addition, we remain committed to fight for the application of Job Seekers Allowance or a similar benefit to Term Time Workers.

Question 12. How many hours a day should children spend at school and at what times?

Our members had no comments on this question

Where should Children learn?

Question 13. How should schools of the future be provided?

UNISON is committed to fully comprehensive schools for the delivery of education in Scotland which we believe is the best way of ensuring equal treatment for every child, irrespective of background..

The education of our children is crucial to Scotland's future, and we believe that the continued use of PFI and PPP puts that future in jeopardy. Last year a UNISON commissioned MORI poll revealed that 91% of Scotland's people did not want their public services delivered by private firms, making it clear that Scotland believes in public services, believing that the privatisation of Scotland's public services has led to poorer services: less accountable services, less responsive services and poorer value for money.

As noted above, the Accounts Commission last month confirmed many of UNISON's fears over PFI, that it is not value for money, and that local authorities should have alternative methods of finance available.

We are concerned that PFI is failing to deliver for Scotland's schools. For example, the Glasgow schools PFI resulted in the loss of 6 swimming pools, smaller and fewer classrooms, science lab benches facing the walls instead of facing teachers, fewer games halls, and faulty fire alarms, and in East Renfrewshire the council DLO had to help out when a roof blew off a school, leaving the contractor Jarvis in dispute with the council over the design of the school and the support provided during the crisis.

UNISON's other main concern with PFI however, focuses on employment issues. PFI actively divides the workforce creating a two-tier system between teaching staff and ancillary staff who remain in the public sector, and janitorial, catering and cleaning staff who are often given no option but to transfer to the private contractor. The Education Team is effectively broken up by this method, as the staff are employed by different employers, on different rates of pay and terms and conditions. As has been seen in the National Health Service, a marked deterioration in standards of service can result from this, due to private contractors cutting the number of staff and reducing their terms and conditions in their efforts to create profits for shareholders.

UNISON would prefer alternative methods of funding public services to PFI to be introduced for our schools. UNISON is clear that the best way of funding new schools is through the conventional borrowing route. Governments and local councils can get much better deals when borrowing money than private companies. Local authorities — unlike private companies - are unlikely to go bust and are therefore a much safer bet for banks lending the cash. We have recently called on the Government to remove the current borrowing constraints which are imposed on local authorities are prevent them borrowing to fund capital investment.

Using the Team's expertise: an example

We have stressed throughout this response that support staff need to be valued and for their professional expertise to be utilised. We set out below one example of a procedure that could have been improved which came from a School Librarian at one of our focus groups.

He expressed his concern at the current situation of lists of reading material for use with the Higher Still curriculum. At present, there are no central approved reading lists established for different subjects. Some authorities have come up with their own, some have shared them with other authorities, in others, individual teachers have been left to draw up their own lists. If the professional knowledge of school librarians had been sought at the planning stage for the new exam structure, a lot of time and effort could have been saved by many people by the establishment and circulation of approved reading lists.

This is just one example of good practice that can be contributed by support staff if they are consulted properly as part of the whole Education Team and their suggestions given equal weight with those of other staff.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary

14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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