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Bucks support staff pay rise falls way behind national deal

Some school support staff got pay rises up to five times lower than their peers last year because their employers ditched national pay agreements.

Schools Week has learnt that Buckinghamshire County Council offered support staff a 2 per cent rise last year, despite the national pay deal in which most local authorities offered a £1,925 hike.

That increase, which many academy trusts also honoured, marked the highest rise in a decade – worth 10.5 per cent for the lowest earners and 4 per cent for higher earners.

One higher-level teaching assistant in Buckinghamshire said 2 per cent fell “way short” of his rising bills, diesel and food costs. It marked “another pay cut that will drive people out of educational support roles”.

A Local Government Association poll last month found a quarter of county councils were struggling to recruit teaching assistants.

Buckinghamshire recently warned of an “incredibly challenging climate” amid soaring demand and prices, launching a £10 million cost-cutting drive despite having “no more easy efficiencies”.

Anita Cranmer, its cabinet member for education, said support staff had received “local terms and conditions for a number of years”, agreed by elected members.

The 2 per cent rise likely affected about 155 maintained schools. It is not known if the 80 or so local academies used their own agreements, Buckinghamshire’s or national ones.

Not all councils negotiate nationally

Most councils negotiate support staff payscales nationally with unions through the National Joint Council (NJC), committing to a “green book” of terms and conditions.

But a handful of councils do not.

North Northamptonshire joined the NJC when the county split in two in 2021, whereas West Northamptonshire did not.

Yet the latter still bases school wages on NJC payscales – and even offered staff 0.25 per cent more last year.

Medway Council also left in 2013, with schools using a “mix of nationally and locally agreed terms”, but mirroring the NJC deal on pay, according to a spokesperson. Hampshire also negotiates local terms, but copies NJC pay awards.

Ruth Levin, a senior national officer at the union Unison, said 2 per cent awards were “out of step in a cost-of-living crisis”, risked staff leaving and showed national pay rates were “essential”.

 Aida Smajlovic, a partner at the law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said all trusts set their own pay, but most still followed national agreements.

Changing staff terms was “difficult”, while trusts feared a “two-tier workforce” or recruitment challenges if new hires received different terms.

Smajlovic said the economic climate, inflation and industrial action might also trigger “more radical changes, because trusts just don’t have the funding”.

The GMB union on Thursday singled out Queensmill Trust, where support staff at its two London special schools have not received the “green book” rises due in 2021 and 2022.

Freddie Adu, the executive head, said the trust, embroiled in a funding row with a local council, faced “exceptionally difficult choices” as it had “simply not had sufficient funds”. But it was working with regulators to cover the payments.

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