News Archive

Speech to TUC Congress

Posted on Friday, November 08, 2002

 President Congress, Jan Cleverly, Community and Youth Workers’ Union

I am very proud to be the first woman from Wales to be President of my Union and to make my first speech to the TUC. I am also delighted to be moving the first ever motion to the TUC on Learning Mentors.

Trade Unionists are well aware of the central role played by school teachers and youth workers in the education system. Joining these established education professions is a new profession of Learning Mentors.

Learning Mentors work primarily in schools to give additional, intensive one to one support to young people requiring additional help with their academic work, their behaviour, or their emotional and social development. So many young people do not realise their potential because they are unhappy or worried or stressed. Learning mentors help tackle these issues which create obstacles to the enjoyment of learning.

While elements of this role have always taken place within the education system what has been new has been intensive government support and funding to some of our poorest inner city areas to enable local authorities to employ dedicated learning mentors to focus where the needs are greatest.

New jobs and a new profession have been created, almost overnight. And already we are seeing the great benefits of the Learning Mentors work. Academic standards have improved, community cohesion has been helped, social exclusion has been tackled and the successful integration of previously difficult students into the overall school culture have taken place. Learning mentors make a difference and where they are properly deployed and employed - they enable teachers to get on with teaching and youth workers to involve more young people in education programmes.

Our Union wants to see the learning mentoring function become a mainstream and permanent part of the education system, not a one off, temporary experiment. We believe school students and young people generally need the support of a friendly adult who can support and guide them through the difficulties of school life, and academic attainment  -and help them through the difficulties of growing up in a sensitive, caring and professional way.

Young people often need special support when their peers bully or discriminate against them. It is clear from all the research that by providing pastoral and other support through mentoring projects young people’s self esteem rises and their skills and competence and ability to learn and communicate are improved.

While we have welcomed the government’s commitment and investment we think urgent measures must now be taken to consolidate this new workforce or the benefits could be soon wasted. Learning mentors are skilled professional workers. They are not class-room teachers and should not be used to substitute on any occasion for qualified teachers. They are not nurses or ancilliary staff and should not be expected to administer medication or to clean class-rooms and mend doors. To avoid the confusion that some employers have on these matters and to ensure that highly skilled mentors are not exploited by under resourced schools, we firmly believe that they need a framework of professional qualifications linked to a clear national bargaining structure.

The government and local authorities want consistency of standards in education across the country, but those charged with delivering those standards are treated inconsistently as the free market in terms and conditions is allowed to flourish. Teachers and have national terms and conditions, so should learning mentors. We have examples of members in neighbouring London Boroughs doing identical jobs, but one will earn 8,000 more than the other. In some authorities these disparities exist from school to school. The wages of learning mentors should not be at the whim of well meaning head teachers.

But worse, the government’s investment while raising standards and aspirations, has not been matched by many permanent contracts. Most learning mentors remain on short term contracts, many have no contracts at all. And many more lack the supportive structures required in this area of work where staff are dealing with some of our most needy and vulnerable young people.

This government has made investment in social inclusion programmes, often targeted at young people, one of its most important policy areas. It has done very well. But to carry this work forward into a third term of office a lot of the dangerously unregulated investment and lack of quality assurance systems and lack of workers’ protection needs to be addressed. Essential education functions are being undertaken in schools and where young people congregate by staff treated as second class citizens. We have heard for example about the lack of vetting for new teachers this term, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of the hundreds and thousands of people working with children and young people outside schools have not been properly vetted either.

We say that learning mentors need a level playing field with all of their colleagues in education – they need professionally recognised qualifications and coherent national collective bargaining under the JNC Report for youth and community workers. They need permanent contracts and parity of status within the education system, not as a group of full professionals, but as professionals like everyone else.

Please support this motion it will not just help learning members, but the young people they work with, if acted upon it will build in a crucial new service within education.

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