School support staff set to negotiate with MoE

School support staff are holding paid union meetings ahead of collective bargaining set for the end of the year.

School support staff – including teacher aides, administrators, librarians, and school technicians, among other roles – are set to negotiate their collective agreements later this year.

Paid union meetings are being held until the end of June, and members say they’d like to see better working conditions, job security and resourcing.  

The negotiations will happen after a year of cuts for the education sector, including a real-term reduction in operational funding for schools and kura which pays for support staff.  

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An operations grant increase of 2.5 percent was given in the 2024 Budget, whereas inflation is still around 4 percent.  

Ally Kemplen, teacher aide and spokesperson for the union says the government is ignoring the sector’s needs.  

“Teacher aides, for example, provide essential learning support to learners, but don’t have job security. Many of us are on fixed term contracts because of the insecure funding system that funds our pay.  

“Valued professions generally have secure employment because their employers don’t want to lose them.  

“When teachers, principals and whānau say we’re essential to meeting children’s needs in a classroom and helping the school run smoothly, it makes no sense that we don’t have that security.”  

Early union meetings have seen discussions of more teacher aides, fair pay, job security and professional learning and development. 

Funding desperately needed  

Following the Budget announcements, many in the education sector were frustrated at a lack of funding allocated to learning support, including for staff like teacher aides. 

Some in the education sector are criticising the government’s decision to fund charter schools instead. In a statement from the Aotearoa Educators’ Collective (AEC), spokesperson Dr Sarah Aiono said:  

“Instead of allocating $153 million to charter schools, these funds could be more effectively invested in providing comprehensive support for our most-at-risk students.”  

Support workers like librarians are due to negotiate their collective agreements at the end of the year. © Tyler Olson, Adobe Stock

AEC states that the money earmarked for charter schools could fund almost 4000 learning assistants for 30 hours a week.  

NZEI Te Riu Roa national executive member and teacher Liam Rutherford says “our teachers, principals and whānau have been crying out for dedicated support for ākonga for a long time. More teacher aides and learning support specialists are a proven way to support students to learn and teachers to teach in one hit. 

“$153 million… would pay for a further 700 full time teacher aides making a huge difference in the classroom for ākonga and their teachers.”  

Ongoing cuts to support staff  

In the meantime, large job losses at the Ministry of Education are seeing learning support roles axed.  

In the Learning Support division at MoE, supporting children with disabilities, most of the roles would be disestablished, going from 19 positions to two.  

The Ministry of Education says funding cuts won’t affect children receiving support services. Image: AdobeStock by AUFORT Jérome

MoE leader Zoe Griffiths said that those working directly with children would not be affected and neither would children with learning support needs. 

“The change proposals have been designed so that services provided directly to children will not be impacted. Children receiving services will continue to receive them.”  

MoE’s regional offices would also face cuts, including 33 learning support roles. Eleven positions would be created to replace them.  

…yet a new learning support work programme?  

Despite these cuts, a new webpage has gone live on the MoE website titled “Targeting learning support for better student achievement”.  

This appeared to draw on the work of the previous Labour government based on former minister Jan Tinetti’s Highest Needs Review. 

According to MoE, the new work programme will respond to feedback from the education sector and disability community as the work of the Māori Affairs Select Committee inquiry into learning support for ākonga Māori, relevant ERO reviews and the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2022).  

“The work programme to support the 5 priorities for strengthening learning support is still being developed. More information will be provided in the coming months,” said Sela Finau, the Ministry’s general manager of learner success and Tiriti policy.  

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She has been covering education in New Zealand since 2022.

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