Highlands & Islands

Highland Council short term PSA contracts criticised

Child playing Image copyright PA
Image caption PSAs help teachers to meet pupils' emotional and educational needs

A council's recruitment of classroom staff on short fixed term contracts has been criticised by the union Unison.

Earlier this month, Highland Council reduced its number of pupil support assistants (PSAs) by more 60 to help save £2.8m over three years.

It is now trying to recruit 14 PSAs until at least the end of the school term to help cover gaps in provision.

Unison said it was the "gig economy" - short-term contracts rather than permanent jobs - entering classrooms.

Highland Council said fixed term contacts were often used for PSA posts for a particular school session because pupil needs varied from year to year, and workers' rights were protected.

John Gibson, of Unison, said the union was "not comfortable" with people having to work on short contracts.

He said staff asked to return to work in the new school term once their current contracts ended would miss out on pay over the long summer holidays.

'Maternity leave'

PSAs help teachers to meet pupils' emotional and educational needs in classrooms and in playgrounds.

Highland Council reduced numbers of PSAs as part of a redesign of classroom support for pupils. PSAs were offered redeployment to roles in early learning and childcare.

The redesign was opposed by some parent groups who were worried children would miss out on support. Protests were held outside the local authority's offices in Inverness, Fort William, Golspie, Ullapool and Wick.

Highland Council said it was not recruiting the new PSAs to posts where it previously redeployed staff to other posts.

A spokesman said: "We are currently recruiting to PSA posts for a number of reasons, such as to cover secondments, maternity leave and some resignations.

"We also require to recruit to posts where a head teacher has made a decision to use specific funding for a PSA post to raise numeracy and literacy."

The council said fixed term contacts were often used for PSA posts for a particular school session because staff requirements based on pupil needs varied from year to year.

The spokesman added: "Terms and conditions offered to staff on fixed term contracts are the same as those for permanent staff, which is a legal requirement."

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