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School Catering Crisis

School catering staff shortage crisis hitting Welsh schools with one council advertising 50 jobs

A Bridgend council spokesman said the authority had ‘seen a huge increase in school catering vacancies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic’

A huge school catering staff shortage is hitting schools with one council alone trying to fill vacancies at 50 schools.

Bridgend council said catering staff have left during the pandemic and it is urgently trying to recruit roles including cooks and kitchen assistants.

Earlier this month the traditional school Christmas lunch was cancelled in the area with the local authority saying there were not enough staff to run it.

The warning comes as a trade union Unison Cymru cautioned of a support staff exodus over pay in Wales.

More than 45% of teaching assistants, caretakers, cleaners and other school support staff in Wales are actively looking for better-paid jobs because of the rising cost of living and persistent low pay in education, according to a survey released by the union.

Head teachers have also said they face a supply teacher shortage this term.

A Bridgend council spokesman said schools across the area were “urgently seeking to recruit new staff who can join their catering teams and help prepare and serve meals for children”.

Councillor Charles Smith, cabinet member for education and regeneration, added: “We have seen a huge increase in vacancies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.” He said kitchen assistant jobs paid £9.50 an hour, hours could be flexible, and training was offered.

The Unison survey responses paint a bleak picture of school support staff employees saying they are living with no heating or hot water because of broken boilers they can’t afford to fix, worrying about how to pay for dental treatment, relying on their children for money, or going to food banks.

An overwhelming majority (98%) told Unison the rate of pay for their school job isn’t enough for them to cope with increasing prices. A total of 38% say they only take home between £1,000 and £1,199 each month while 32% earn less than £1,000 a month.

More than 76% are worried about paying their utility and council tax bills and 52% are anxious about paying their mortgage or rent.

As money is so tight more than 27% said they have resorted to taking second or even third jobs to make ends meet while 37% say they’ve had to cut back on spending and 18% have borrowed money from friends and family.

Rosie Lewis, Unison Cymru/Wales lead officer for school support staff, said: “School support staff are a dedicated workforce who go the extra mile every day and work incredibly hard. Schools couldn’t operate without them. But many have reached a point where they simply can’t afford to stay in the job they love.

“Schools risk an exodus of support staff as people reluctantly seek better-paid jobs. This is a terrible state of affairs given the tireless work of support staff throughout the pandemic ensuring schools remained open and free school meals were still provided.

“But the rising cost of bills, food, and travel means many of the stars in our schools risk falling into serious debt or losing their homes. They simply don’t earn enough for the incredible job they do. The government must make extra money available to enable schools to keep the support staff they’re so dependent upon by paying them properly.”

Bridgend Council said its vacancies, ranging from cooks to general kitchen assistants, are available with flexible term-time working hours and a staff pension scheme. Pay is £9.50 an hour for a general kitchen assistant.

The original version of this article was first published on Wales Online

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