It can be too easy to recognise teachers as key educational personnel, without appreciating school support staff. Those in support and ancillary positions help schools to tick.
This paper was published as a column in the ‘Suns’ Newspapers in October 2015.
THE ‘SOMETIMES FORGOTTEN’ SCHOOL STAFF
When considering schools and educational issues, thinking generally embraces students, their parents, teachers and school leaders. There is a tendency to overlook the roles and positions filled by administrative and support staff. Key support staff occupy Department of Education positions. These are allocated to schools on an enrolment and pupil-teacher ratio basis. Included are the Finance Administrator and Administrative Officers (AO’s).
AO’s used to spend some time as teaching assistants in classrooms. However, educational complexity and school accountability have required them to increasingly focus on office management and administrative duties. They are no longer ‘teacher aides’ but occupiers of significant ‘whole of school’ support roles. The tasks they undertake on behalf of classroom teachers may be limited to photocopying, construction of material aides and completion of other peripheral tasks. School self management and independence has dictated this change in support staff roles.
Classroom support that teachers need is largely provided by Special Education School Assistants (SESA’s). SESA positions are funded on the basis of identified student needs through Student Support Services. Additionally, schools are allocated aide positions to support Preschool and Transition students.
Recent changes to school budget responsibilities combined staffing allocation and operational grants into a single one-line allocation to be managed as needed by each school. It includes both base funding and finding for student needs.
This budget strategy has been hailed as a step toward schools being increasingly accountable and responsible for outcomes. This may be the case. However in order to fund material needs, there is a possibility that staffing numbers will be pruned. The challenge confronting Principals with their School Councils or School Boards is to maintain school needs as a whole without compromising in the area of staff support.
Historically, school administrative and support staff could be employed without having any formal qualifications. A statement regarding employment prospects for Education Aides in the NT reads as follows. “You can work as an education aide without formal qualifications, but employers usually require Year 10. You will probably get some informal training on the job. Entry to this occupation may be improved if you have qualifications.”
Wise Principals and their Councils invest in training for school support staff. Professional development needs to be commensurate with the positions they occupy and should include every staff member.
School management practices and educational outcomes are enhanced if staff are well versed and up to date with workplace requirements. For the sake of school efficiency and educational outcomes, support staff along with teachers, need to be included within this educational loop.