More than 40 staff at a chain of York schools are facing wage cuts worth thousands of pounds after bosses proposed terminating their current contracts.
South Bank Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), which runs four primary and two secondary schools in York, wants to reduce the number of weeks it pays teaching assistants and other support staff as it faces “significant financial challenges.”
“We are therefore faced with making some difficult decisions to ensure that we maintain a sustainable financial position for the benefit of our children,” a MAT spokesperson added.
The staff – the majority women and paid below £20,000 – are said to be “crushed” and many are looking for new jobs for the new year, when the changes would come into effect.
York Unison called the “brutal attack” on wages “particularly abhorrent during a cost of living crisis”.
One teaching assistant, who works at Knavesmire Primary School – which has just received an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ rating – said: “It’s caused such a high degree of upset – people are absolutely devastated.”
The MAT spokesperson said the move would address a “long-term contractual issue” whereby teaching assistants are paid for 52 weeks but only work in term time.
The teaching assistant, who wanted to remain anonymous, explained that it was the more highly trained TAs that will be affected. Many of them work in the holidays regardless, and in secondary schools some TAs can lead classes.
She added: “It isn’t just about the money, it’s about how they’ve made us feel. They’ve crushed us. Our value and our sense of self esteem has been completely obliterated.”
Micklegate’s two Labour councillors have strongly criticised the MAT’s “disgraceful” plan.
Cllr Pete Kilbane said: “Teaching assistants provide great value for money, delivering essential support to teachers and often working closely with pupils and families who have additional needs.
“But instead of retaining the fabulous TA’s that they have, South Bank MAT risks forcing them out of the profession altogether.”
Cllr Jonny Crawshaw, who opposed Scarcroft, Knavesmire and Millthorpe schools becoming part of the MAT, has said that, if a six-figure saving needs to be found, there are “more appropriate places to look” than the trust’s lowest paid staff.
He has said that chief executive, Mark Hassack, is on a “six figure salary”, and that at least four members of the MAT’s central administration team were recruited this year on salaries above £50,000.
The Knavesmire teaching assistant added: “That money is money for the children and it’s not reaching them – it’s funding a central that we were originally told we would never need.”
A petition to ‘stop the pay cuts’ has been signed by more than 1,500 people.
A meeting convened jointly by the National Education Union and GMB, chaired by Cllr Crawshaw, will take place tonight (Thursday) at the Priory Street Centre at 7pm.
A trust spokesperson said: “Whilst we understand that this is extremely difficult for those colleagues who are affected, it will ensure fairness and equity for all our staff, in that everyone across the trust will be paid for their contracted hours of employment.
“The proposed changes we are consulting on would bring us in line with other schools, local authorities, academies and trusts nationally.”
They added: “The ongoing consultation is with staff and whilst we appreciate the depth of feeling within the community, this is not a public consultation.”
South Bank MAT runs Millthorpe, York High, Carr Juniors, Knavesmire, Scarcroft and Woodthorpe schools.