COVID-19 and Education Support Staff
The IEU is receiving a flood of queries and concerns from Education Support Staff members. We provide the following general advice for members help answer your questions.
Please contact the IEU for more detail or if you have specific questions.
What is the IEU doing to advocate for support staff and their unique issues?
Every single letter of demand to employers and the government has specifically dealt with the issues affecting support staff.
The IEU is advocating for schools to urgently move to remote learning, to be proactive in ensuring your safety while you are at work and to maintain Support Staff pay and conditions in every situation.
Of most concern are the rumours that ES may be 'stood down' if schools move to wide-ranging remote learning in Term 2. Under the poorly-named Fair Work Act, employers have a legal right to ‘stand down’ workers without pay in circumstances ‘beyond their control’. Even the Federal Government has urged employers to avoid this. Schools have no excuse for doing this: while it’s true that there may be a loss of income if some parents are unable to pay fees, the bulk of schools’ income already comes from taxpayers and is locked in. Schools are not private retailers whose income dries up completely when the doors close - they have secure taxpayer-funded income streams, accounting for up to 80% of their recurrent funding (60% from the Federal Government and 20% from the State Government).”
See here for the our Federal Branch letter to the Education Minister (sent 31 March) outlining our concerns about how the JobKeeper payment fails to protect support staff in our schools.
Supervision of students:
Who can supervise students?
Teachers should supervise students. There are some circumstances where support staff can do this, which varies by sector:
- Victorian Catholic Schools
Level 1 LSOs are inexperienced (novice) LSOs who generally require close supervision. They do not supervise students without a higher-level support staff or teacher present. If the employee is inexperienced then Level 1 is appropriate but they should not be supervising students.
LSOs at Level 2 and above can be required to supervise students where this is incidental to the performance of their normal duties. We should take a pragmatic approach to this when it comes to supervising the children of parents who are likely to take a liberal view of the application of these words in Level 2 in the current circumstances.
All ES at Level 2 and above could be called on to do student supervision, but you are entitled to refuse if you are not adequately trained in management of student behaviours. The employer has legal obligations to ensure arrangements are safe for you and the students.
- Tasmanian Catholic Schools
Teacher Assistants can supervise students provided that they:
- are classified at or above level 2.5
- have been trained in student control/behaviour management and protective handling, and
- have ready recourse to a Teacher
We urge common sense and flexibility when it comes to supervising the children of parents doing essential work.
- Independent schools
If you are covered by the Award and:
- are a level 1 teacher aide, you should not be left alone with a group of children. You are expected to be directly supervised by a teacher.
- are a Teacher aide level 2 or above and are properly trained to do so, you can supervise groups of students.
If you are covered by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, you need to look at the classification definitions, which in many cases are similar to the Award. You can find your Agreement here – don’t hesitate to contact the IEU for assistance interpreting it.
Do we need to have more than one ES staff on duty?
There is no single rule, except that the employer is responsible for everyone’s safety: yours and the students’. If you feel that the staffing is inadequate given the number, ages and nature of the students and the area you are working in, make sure you raise it – in writing!
Can the school extend supervision of children into the school holidays in these exceptional circumstances? If we are prepared to do this with proper protocols – is this helpful?
Yes, the school can do this, provided that they cannot unilaterally make you work at a time that has been set (by contract or by correspondence) for you to be on leave (paid or unpaid). We encourage members to be flexible to enable schools to operate when it’s needed - but get any agreement in writing and always get advice from the IEU before agreeing. And remember, flexibility cuts both ways: there may be commitments that you want to have confirmed as part of any written agreement.
Alternative Duties & Working from home
Based on suggestions from IEU members, we've put together this list of possible changed or alternative duties for ES staff while remote learning is taking place.
If your employer flags cuts to your hours or income, or threatens to stand you down without pay, contact the IEU immediately. We have more advice about stand-downs here.