Anger as schools' teaching assistants miss out on £200 Covid bonuses

Workers excluded from council payment for those on low incomes

Friday, 11th February — By Anna Lamche

Briony Densham

Briony Densham

EARLY years teaching assistants are “very disgruntled” after it was revealed that only some of those who work in children’s centres would be receiving a bonus for their work during the pandemic.

The Tribune reported last month that teaching assistants were “angry and disappointed” after being excluded from a council bonus payment for low-income workers who kept the borough running during the coronavirus crisis.

The Town Hall awarded a discretionary £200 “pay award” to its lower paid staff – such as refuse collectors, caretakers and road sweepers – as recognition for their work.

But the council said legal red tape meant it was unable to do the same for teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors in its schools.

It has now been revealed, however, that teaching assistants working in children’s centres had been “assured” that they would receive the £200 bonus.

Briony Densham, a Unison convenor and a teaching assistant herself, said this is because nursery staff are paid from a different early years budget.

“Children’s centres are run by Bright Start in Islington, and we have several children’s centres that are in their own independent building,” she said. “But we also have lots of children’s centres that are based within schools. All Bright Start staff working in separate buildings will receive it, but not the staff that are based in schools.”

However, the council has stressed that what determines whether staff get the “pay award” is not the building in which they work, but who acts as their direct employer.

Ms Densham said: “It’s really, really unfair. Everyone is really angry. Teachers could work from home, but we’re the ones who provided care for nurses’ children, doctors’ children, and vulnerable children. Just like working in a hospital, working in a school is not office-based.”

Jane Doolan, the branch secretary of Islington Unison, told the Tribune: “It’s the unfairness – it’s caused so much division, they would have been better off not giving the payment to anyone.

“Sometimes staff just want to know they’re appreciated, they want to be dealt with sympathetically, they want to be treated with respect.

“The view of the teaching assistants is if you give it to one, you give it to all.

“We have some very disgruntled staff. I don’t know what the council is going to do – this is not something that’s going to go away quickly.

There will be grumblings about this for quite some time.”

A council spokesperson said: “We believe that school and nursery staff deserve recognition for their work throughout the pandemic, and that national government should fund a special payment for lower-paid support staff in our schools and nurseries. We are writing to the Treasury to ask them to do so.

“This would show appreciation for the contribution, sacrifices and hard work of school and nursery staff.

“The council is proud to have been able to make a special payment to its lowest-paid staff in recognition of their work. But under the legal arrangements for nursery funding in schools, it is not allowed to do the same on behalf of schools.

“Each school is responsible for balancing its own budget and making decisions on the employment and payment of staff.”

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