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Teaching under pressure

By Chelsea Boyle

[email protected]

Teachers and support staff are being asked to do more with less.

It’s a sentiment being voiced by many working within the education sectors even though the Ministry of Education has said its targeted funding programme increased the funding for schools.

The New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) says the Ministry of Education has put a freeze on its operation grant which affects support staff, such as teacher aides.

NZEI held paid union meetings in Wairarapa last week hoping they can get the operations to be freed-up.

They are travelling the country adding signatures for a petition to be presented to parliament.

Qualified teacher aide and NZEI secretary Katrina Ford said she had felt a cut in her working hours since the 2016 budget.

In the past, she worked 25 hours a week, the maximum for a teacher aide, but in recent times it had been more along the lines of 12 or 18 hours.

“Our school is really good, they know what we do and they try and get us hours.”

Ultimately, there is no job security for teacher aides if the children they care for change schools, she said.

At the beginning of the year, she said she tried to go in with the mindset of not working outside her limited hours.

“But it never works that way.”

She said there simply was not enough time to make the resources that will make the difference for children who are struggling with the national curriculum.

“With a good old piece of paper and a laminator we make lots of resources.

“And I think every teacher aide will do that.

“But I’m having to do that at home in my own time so I can help that child.”

In her past 11 years of experience she had worked with a wide range of needs, including children who left the classroom unannounced.

She said teacher aides are a crucial safety measure in these types of cases, and teachers shouldn’t be using classroom hours to search for a missing child.

Teacher aides help pupils who would struggle to keep up with their classmates in a large class, she said.

“Sometimes they can fall through the cracks, it’s just not fair,” Ms Ford said.

“We need teachers to kick up a stink.”

Ms Ford said she was hugely passionate about her job as a teacher aide.

“The joy that I see on a kid’s face when they finally get it. That’s what I like.”

But it was an uncertain future with the job.

“I think in a few years, we won’t have jobs, or we won’t have paid jobs.”

She said the union was asking for better funding that would include increases in the dirty work allowance and the qualification allowance.

Some teacher aides are being paid just above minimum wage, she said.

Minister of Education Hekia Parata said it is up to schools to decide how to best use the operations grant.

“In 2017 just over $1.35 billion is being distributed to schools in operational grants, as well as an extra $12.3 million for those schools who have students from long term benefit dependent families,” she said.

“An extra $12.3 million, although targeted, is not a freeze, it is more money for over 99 per cent of schools.”

She said that on the question of pay for teacher-aides – collective bargaining is a matter for the Ministry of Education.

“However, the Ministry is ready and willing to continue to engage in positive and constructive negotiations with the union representatives.

“The unions have the right to hold paid union meetings, and they have made the choice to discontinue bargaining while these paid union meetings occur.

“This effectively postpones any meaningful progress for these support staff, when the unions are fully aware that there is no back-dating.”

Craig Nelson, President of the South Wairarapa Principals Cluster, agreed the funding was disappointing but said that schools tended to deal with the operations grant.

There was never enough money, he said.

As far as targeted funding he agreed it was too little and some children would fall outside the criteria.

“We are being asked to do more with less. It’s a massively complex issue.

“There is a massive disconnect between the diagnosis and the support schools are able to access through the Education Ministry.”

Schools often topped up quite a bit of the income from the operations grant, which had been frozen, to support children with special needs in the classroom.

“For some schools, they find other ways of making ends meet.

“There are reductions elsewhere so they can provide the in-class support.”

He said it was a balancing act.

“If schools were resourced appropriately would could make so much more of a difference than we currently do.”

 

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