More than 25% of school support staff ‘would quit their jobs if school holidays changed’
More than a quarter of school support workers say they would quit their jobs if Welsh Government plans to shake-up the school year go ahead, according to the public services union Unison.
The Welsh Government is consulting on proposals to shorten the school summer holiday by one week and lengthen the October half-term by a similar amount. It says the move would boost pupil attainment and help minimise staff fatigue.
Education Minister Jeremy Miles has said: “There’s every reason to suspect a different school year could play its part. In a recent report, Wales’s education inspectorate Estyn noted that the school year presents challenges to attendance, especially during the autumn term, which is always longer than others.
“They have recommended we consider how changing the school year might help address some of the underlying issues behind patterns of lower attendance during these periods.
“Research supports this finding. Illness is known to be higher in the long autumn term, and attendance is poorer, all made worse by increased fatigue. We’re looking to change the school year so terms are more even – giving pupils and staff a two-week break for the October half term instead of one week. Our hope is that this will give everyone a proper rest, boosting learning and attendance once they return.
“To achieve this, we are consulting on moving one week from the start of the summer break to the autumn. This might seem like a small change, with everyone still getting the same number of holidays as they do now, but there is every reason to believe that it is a sensible, necessary change. A change that has the potential to improve wellbeing, attainment and attendance.”
However, a Unison Cymru survey of nearly 3,000 school support staff found they wanted Ministers to prioritise dealing with staff shortages, low pay and increased workloads.
The survey found that 27% said they would consider looking for a different job if the summer holiday was reduced in schools in Wales.
Half of the support staff (50%) who have a second job in the summer said it would be harder to find other employment if the holiday was reduced.
Almost half (44%) of school staff who are also parents said they would be hit with higher heating and entertainment costs if their children were off school for the extra week in October, when it tends to be colder and wetter than in the summer.
When asked about what they thought were the main issues affecting schools, they listed increased workloads, budget cuts and staff shortages as their top three priorities.
When asked what would improve staff wellbeing in schools, they called for better pay, staff to be paid all year round and the recruitment of more staff.
UNISON Cymru school support staff forum chair Sara Allen said: “School support workers care passionately about helping children and making sure their time at school is a successful and enjoyable one. They certainly aren’t in it for the money.
“Support staff are feeling the pressure because they have too few colleagues and an impossible workload. They need the longer summer holiday to recover from such a demanding job.
“Moving a holiday week to October will increase the financial burden for staff and is likely to mean many teaching assistants decide to quit.”
UNISON Cymru lead officer for schools Rosie Lewis said: “The school workforce is still feeling bruised from Covid and is already under enormous pressure dealing with the changes to the curriculum for Wales.
“Staff haven’t received an above-inflation pay rise for 15 years and have been badly affected by the cost-of-living crisis.
“We call upon the Welsh Government to scrap its proposals to change the structure of the school year and to work with Unison to tackle the urgent issues that matter to the whole education workforce.”
Unison school support staff were surveyed between November 30 2023 and December 15 2023. The union received 2,824 responses.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “This is an opportunity to design a school calendar that works better for teachers, staff and, most importantly, learners – providing everyone with the best conditions in which to thrive.
We continue to engage with key stakeholders, and the public consultation – which closes on February 12th – offers everyone the opportunity to have their voice heard on the proposals.”
The spokesperson added: “School support staff pay and conditions are a matter for individual employers, whether this is the school or the local authority.
The authority, as the employer of its own staff, is responsible for the decisions it makes regarding the terms and conditions of employment. The Welsh Government has no authority to intervene in such matters.”
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