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Cuts to teaching assistant roles at Burnham Market Primary School and other Wensum Trust schools could spark strikes, says UNISON

A West Norfolk primary school trust has said that its existing teaching assistants will be “prioritised” amid plans to cut jobs.

The cuts have threatened Burnham Market Primary School, which operates under the Wensum Trust. A union has warned that this could spark strikes.

The trust, which runs schools across the county, has revealed plans to scrap a total of 75 teaching assistant posts, with staff expected to compete for 48 pastoral support roles, focusing on supporting children’s emotions rather than helping them to learn.

Burnham Market Primary School is thought to be affected by the cuts. Picture: Google Maps
Burnham Market Primary School is thought to be affected by the cuts. Picture: Google Maps

The academy chain has blamed financial pressures for the change and admitted in its consultation document: “This reduction will, of course, have an impact on provision and there will be less support for class teachers to provide bespoke interventions to meet the needs of all children.”

However, Daniel Thrower, CEO of the Wensum Trust, told the Lynn News that existing teaching assistants will be “prioritised” for new roles that are being created.

He said: “We have brilliant support staff working across our schools, in a range of roles, and we really value the work they do to support children with both their education and their wider social and emotional needs.

“We are facing budget pressures, like all those locally and nationally in the education sector.

“This has meant we have had to review our staffing structure, so that we can balance our budget.

“As part of this, we are developing new roles that better reflect our trust ethos – to support children’s education and pastoral needs.”

He said the trust’s current teaching assistants have been prioritised for these roles and would be paid at the same rate or at a higher level in the new structure.

“Following consultation with staff we have made some changes to the roles and are investing in further training and development. We also do not need to make any compulsory redundancies,” Mr Thrower added.

“We understand that any change like this is difficult for those affected and we continue to offer advice and support.

“Our priority continues to be to provide the best education and care for our children and we will continue to have a good level of support available across all of the schools in our trust.”

UNISON says closer scrutiny of Wensum’s finances shows seven of the eight primary schools are in surplus, with most of the trust’s financial woes coming down to a £474,000 deficit in central services, where the number of senior managers on six-figure salaries increased from one in 2022 to four in 2023.

A spokesperson for the union said that teaching assistants have stated that they are willing to strike unless the trust rethinks its plans - with 96% backing industrial action in a consultative vote.

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Cameron Matthews said: “Bosses seem more interested in protecting their own pay packets than the pupils in their charge.

“Wensum has admitted the cuts will harm children’s education but are ploughing on regardless. They should be making choices that prioritise children’s education rather than damaging delivery and putting more strain on teachers.

“Teaching assistants would much rather be helping children learn than considering industrial action but they know that the harm to pupils would be far greater if these proposals go through.

“We urge the trust to abandon these plans.”

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