School support staff will be central to the success of the full return to schools in September and Welsh Government’s operation guidance must reflect this, says UNISON. The trade union is today (Thursday) responding to the Welsh Education Minister’s announcement to fully reopen schools from September.

School support staff make up the majority of the schools workforce – including teaching assistants (TAs), administrative staff, cooks, cleaners, lunchtime assistants and care takers – and their role in ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of pupils and schools must not be overlooked.

Rosie Lewis, UNISON Wales school lead officer, said:

“Today’s announcement gives some much needed certainty for pupils, parents and schools staff.

“We have a huge amount of hard work ahead to ensure schools are safe and communities are protected. A bigger workforce in schools will be key to delivering that so we welcome the announcement for additional teaching assistants.

“To ensure the Minister’s intention of supporting learners, TAs must be appointed at cover supervisor and higher level grades so that more personalised learning programmes and targeted support can be achieved.

“School support staff make up the majority of the schools workforce and their roles in ensuring schools are safe are crucial.

“The safety of the schools workforce and the confidence of the wider community will depend in part on a robust and responsive testing strategy which all schools staff have access to.

“Cooks, cleaners, caretakers, teaching assistants, administrative staff, lunchtime supervisors are going to be central to the safe return to schools and it is important this is recognised.

 “It is also these members of staff who have the most direct contact, often working 1:1 with pupils and in closer proximity to other adults – their safety at work must be a priority, and this must also be reflected in the testing strategy.

“UNISON must be involved in the roll out of these plans at a local level, including the risk assessment process that should be taking place in all schools. The experience that has been gained over the last few weeks will be crucial when planning for a full return and our members are key contributors to this.

“Partnership has never been more important. We are committed to working with Welsh Government and employers to help ensure a safe and confident return to schools for everyone.”