A week with UNISON North West: supporting learning and development for schools staff

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During the first week of the summer holidays UNISON North West hosted a full week of short courses for school support staff. A total of 150 teaching assistants, learning support, admin support and midday supervisors enrolled onto a diverse range of workshops throughout the week.

Monday 24 July

Members started the week with a one day ‘Promoting Positive Behaviours’ workshop in Manchester which was so popular that the region plans to host further sessions in Cumbria and Manchester in the autumn. Teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors, and finance and admin support gained new skills in how to promote positive behaviours in classrooms and corridors.

Tutor Jeremy Brigham, a deputy headteacher from a special behavioural support unit, explained, “School support staff have an indispensible role as the eyes and ears of the school, and can make a real difference in creating a positive learning environment for our young people and staff”.

Jeremy went on to describe some of the appalling conditions of poverty our young people live in and the importance of children receiving a proper meal during school lunchtimes. Jeremy recommended the establishment of regular school forums to allow senior leadership teams to hear the views of those closest to the running of the school – the support staff – and for their views to be taken into account.

The course can be run within school settings. members were encouraged to speak with headteachers and employers about effective use of scheduled INSET training time and how to make use of the UNISON learning and development offer.

Over in Liverpool, members were busy upskilling their teaching strategies with maths expert Stephanie Lawrence of School Improvement Liverpool. This group works with school maths departments to improve outcomes for learners across the city. Stephanie explained changes to the curriculum before offering some excellent resources to add to a ‘toolkit’ of hands-on activities for supporting maths in the classroom.

“Really enjoyed the course, excellent communication from the course leader. Topics were all relevant and has given me a renewed enthusiasm for supporting maths classes”.

Cathy, teaching assistant

Tuesday 25 July

On Tuesday morning school staff joined transport workers and community police officers at Merseylearn Liverpool for a workshop on Polish language and culture delivered by Gosia McKane. Gosia is project manager at Merseyside Polonia, an organisation which supports bridge building between communities. Two Merseytravel staff members who are from a Polish background joined learners for lunch.

The learners came from different backgrounds, but they shared a common goal of wanting to help and support Polish people in their communities by learning some basic phrases and understanding more about Poland. Members spread the Show Racism the Red Card message, in both languages, before enjoying a Polish buffet which smelled and tasted delicious. Dzien Dobry!

In the afternoon, schools staff joined Joy Rowlands, a tutor working with the Open University, for a session on autism awareness.

Wednesday 26 July

On Wednesday members travelled to Preston for workshops on mental health awareness and dyslexia awareness delivered by Cath Roberts from the Manchester College. Regional schools lead Keith Bradley attended the day and presented certificates to members.

Keith commented, “A fantastic turnout today, everybody enjoyed themselves. We look forward to offering further learning and development opportunities for our members through our excellent partnerships with providers and access to the Union Learning Fund”.

“Can I just say what an amazing lady Cath is. She gave an outstanding service to all who attended the course. Cath’s knowledge on mental health and dyslexia was brilliant. I certainly would be interested in the three day course for mental health, this lies very close to me. Everyone introduced themselves at the beginning of the sessions which was great. There was great communication from the group, especially in the Mental Health workshop. Keep the courses going, they are brilliant!”

Cheryl, teaching assistant and UNISON rep

Thursday 27 July

On Thursday twenty members attended a confidence and self esteem workshop, Power to be You, delivered by the Workers Educational Association in Manchester. Learners gained new skills in developing a confident and assertive persona. During a break time discussion led by UNISON, members asked about what they should do in schools which have no workplace rep and explained the difficulty sometimes of raising issues in schools.

“A workplace rep is vital to have in every school. If there is no rep in your school you must hold a meeting of UNISON members and elect one. Your local UNISON branch and regional office will support you and provide the relevant training necessary to perform the role, we don’t throw people in at the deep end, rather we provide a network and support structure for reps’ development. The membership learning and development offer from our union presents an excellent opportunity to sit down with school leaders and make a strong and positive case for supporting members”.

Tom Jenkins, regional learning organiser

Friday 28 July

The Friday sessions brought the week to a close with workshops on British Sign Language (BSL) and managing conflict at Manchester College. Deaf tutor Dipti Patel from the Manchester Deaf Centre delivered an outstanding course in basic BSL.

“I didn’t realise I would learn so much, outstanding tutor!”

Jane, British Sign Language workshop

In the afternoon, learners took part in a discussion-led workshop around managing conflict and dealing with difficult situations, mostly to do with relationships between school staff. Members explored ways of dealing with stressful situations, often leading to discussions of how UNISON can help with developing a positive and collective response to challenging circumstances to the benefit of the whole school community. Learners expressed interest in further workshops including a potential residential weekend on this and other issues, which UNISON will explore.

Members in schools should contact their local branch and regional office for advice on how to tap in to the UNISON schools offer.


Photograph © Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk