Susan Kennedy, Assistant Branch Secretary said, "Staff, despite what the Council says or believes, are at the moment extremely stressed and struggling to keep up with the workload they currently have. Never mind a reduction in numbers. A pupil that needs personal care will still need personal care, a pupil that needs assistance to read will still need that assistance, who is going to provide this support when there are less of them?"
Members also feel that the proposals do not reflect Scottish Government Policy, in particular "Getting in Right for Every Child" (GIRFEC).
"Children will suffer through inconsistency of support and support cut backs. 'Building good and trusting relationships' with pupils will be difficult with flexible staffing and will offer a poorer quality of care. Pupils enjoy stability of support currently and these changes will cause upset to them and disruption within the classroom."
Health and Safety
"We believe that not enough consideration has been given to Health and Safety issues for pupils and for staff," added Susan. "We believe that if first aid is to be done it should be on choice, with the 5 day training and with the appropriate first aid allowance paid."
The branch is also concerned that many learning support staff do not at present have roles that include personal care tasks with pupils, but under these proposals may be obliged to undertake this role.
"Medical care is a particular worry for both UNISON and our members, who should not be forced into carrying out procedures which may cause personal discomfort and risk to both staff and pupils," said Susan, adding that UNISON is unhappy that there is no policy in place nor any evidence of liability cover to support this task.
The branch has also expressed concerns about the requirement for some staff to travel, given the cost and the fact that many have no cars and no access to public transport.
The Council has put the proposals for a generic support post called a "personal support assistant (PSA)" out for consultation before the formal consultation meetings had concluded, and has held a series of consultation meetings with staff.
However, they have agreed to a UNISON request to extend the consultation period to 1st July and UNISON representatives have been attending the consultation meetings to hear members' views and to gauge reaction. The Branch will be responding to the consultation based on what members are saying about the proposals.
"In addition to this, we would encourage members to respond in writing to the proposals and copy in the branch," said Susan Kennedy, Asst Secretary."It is in members best interest to respond to the consultation. You need to let UNISON know if you are not happy with any aspect of the new role proposals.
She added, "We are concerned that it has gone out for consultation before further discussions have taken place. The generic post is complex and UNISON believed that there were still a lot of issues that needed to be considered and worked out by the panel before it moved to the consultation process.
"So we don't have answers to many of the questions, but if staff know that something would not work or have solutions to suggest, we would like to have that information. Without these responses we will not have a voice to try to change these proposals."
Susan Kennedy, Assistant Branch Secretary, said, "The branch remains very concerned about the potential impact of these changes on both pupils and staff. We have also expressed our concern at the delays to the work on the generic support posts as we are very aware of the huge impact it is having on our members."
The branch is continuing to highlight the impact of cuts to learning support on our most vulnerable children. Click here to find out more about the branch campaign.
It has sent out a briefing to all affected members giving an assurance that the branch is working very hard for you all and is continuing to challenge Aberdeenshire Council over all of these and many other service issues.
"Currently contracts for Sfl auxiliaries are being assessed by EL&L and they should be sent out sometime in June.
"Permanent contracts are being considered for Sfl auxiliaries with over four years of service. All temporary contracts with less than and up to two years of service held by Sfl auxiliaries are due to end on July 1st 2011, as stated on current contracts."
Susan added, "HR and EL&L are going to be reviewing all temporary contracts. We have not been given a timescale for these reviews, but they will be carried out for many posts across the council.
"Temporary contracts with over two years service held by Sfl auxiliaries and Classroom Assistants will be assessed under the current Audit of Needs, in which all schools have been asked to determine the needs of their pupils for additional support. Contracts may be extended inline with staffing levels worked out by the audit formula."
Generic Support Post
Work also began on the Generic Support Post in March and there have been three meetings so far looking into placing Sfl Auxiliaries (mainstream and special school), Classroom Assistants, Lunchtime Auxiliaries and Children's Supervisors into the generic role of 'Pupil Support Assistant'.
Unfortunately, after the Easter holidays all scheduled meetings were suspended due to the new Director of Education, Maria Walker, not taking up her post on a full time basis until June 6th.
Susan said, "This is both disappointing and frustrating for us at UNISON, as we are aware of the huge impact this has for our members, especially those on temporary/fixed term contracts. We are hoping that we can resume consultation on 7th June and can get clarification on how the new post will affect our members."
She added, "The generic post is complex and there are still a lot of issues that need to be considered and worked out by the panel before it goes to the consultation process. This would involve all parties involved in the new post.
Susan warned, "Education continues to be hit the hardest by budget cuts, and we will continue our campaign to raise awareness of these cuts and the impact they will have on the pupils. Please encourage all your family and friends to join our online petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43478.html