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More than 25% of school support staff ‘would quit their jobs if school holidays changed’

10 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Martin Shipton

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.”

Staff shortages

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.

Workloads

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.

School calendar 

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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Annibendod
Annibendod
4 months ago

The minister for education should be made aware, if he is not already, how deeply unpopular these proposals are. Change for change sake. Often politicians do this so that they can point to “something” that they have done regardless of whether or not it was useful. Mr Miles invokes fatigue as a reason for this change. However, the 6 week break is vital rest for school staff. Furthermore, the cause of the fatigue is not the pattern of holidays. It is the number of contact hours and workload. A further source of disenchantment is the failure to keep pay in… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Another case of if you can’t fix it mess up something else so the appearance of doing something for your wages is created…

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
4 months ago

yet another WG “consultation” which receives negative feedback. If they are true to past form the WG will totally ignore all feedback and do what they want anyway. Why they cannot be honest and just say we know better than everyone and get on with messing up yet again.

Annibendod
Annibendod
4 months ago

Every consultation with teaching staff has seen our opinions roundly ignored. Curriculum for Wales – ignored. New GCSE’s – ignored. What are the odds they’ll ignore us on school holidays? They make their decisions for their own reasons and carry on regardless. All the while the profession is in crisis and they wonder why.

Llewz
Llewz
4 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

How anyone could defend the current structure of term times is beyond me.

Anyone that has given it the slightest consideration would recognise that 6 weeks off in the summer is counterproductive to a child/student’s development. The vast majority of children, if not all of them, come back from the summer having lost both academic ability and any semblance of routine. Most of September is wasted getting them back up to speed.

Current term times are archaic and outdated.

Last edited 4 months ago by Llewz
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

The changing weather patterns should be a part of this equation…shorter days; less hours of schooling not more days off…

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
4 months ago

As a teacher, I am not concerned about changes to the summer holiday. My concern is the plan to separate the spring break from Easter. For those of us who are Christians, this looks like another attempt to push our religious expressions – which are also a longstanding part of the cultural traditions of Wales – away from public life. I hope they will reconsider this.

Erisian
Erisian
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Christianity has already separated us from our festivals by stomping all over the calendar and asigning its festivals to displace our older traditions. So don’t come the raw prawn.

Lord Custard
Lord Custard
4 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

Probably because human sacrifice was frowned upon!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  Lord Custard

No one liked a good bonfire more than the ‘Christians’…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

And the traditions before the one you refer to…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

You should be in detention for the rest of term for that…

Glwyo
Glwyo
4 months ago

Being married to a teacher, I have second hand experience of how miserable the autumn months are for staff so if anything I feel the plan doesn’t go far enough. The autumn terms will still be longer than the others. I’d rather the Christmas holiday be extended to 4 weeks, Summer shortened to 4, and take a week off each autumn half term. And whilst we’re writing blank cheques, maybe somebody should consider that total contact time doesn’t need to be as much as it is. It may be an unfair comparison but private schools outperform state ones and their… Read more »

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