Promoting fairness in the classroom

We speak to teaching assistant Sue Ryles about what it’s like to be a schools rep – and why more people should do it

Sue Ryles smiles in front of a UNISON noticeboard

It’s making sure people are treated fairly that motivates Sue Ryles to take on the role as a UNISON rep.

She’s worked at the John Grant School, for children with complex needs, in Caister near Great Yarmouth for 23 years now, as a volunteer and supply before securing a permanent post.

She’s helped children through many different ages in that time, starting off with nursery classes to key stage three today. “Their ages can range from 12 to 14 years – it can be a bit lively at times with the hormones kicking in!”

Sue’s been a UNISON activist for longer than the kids she’s working with have been alive.

“I’ve been a UNISON members for many years, probably 14 or 15 as a rep,” she says.

“I have always felt that we should be treated fairly. By being a UNISON rep I can try to make sure everything’s fair for my colleagues. I can encourage them to speak to take their issues forward and speak to senior managers without being worried. I go to meetings to make sure they’re not alone.

“UNISON colleagues know I’m a phone call away if they need to speak to me.”

Sue stands outside the John Grant school

Importantly, there’s always support on hand for her as well and she can always speak to her colleagues in the UNISON branch if she needs advice or if members have a more serious problem.

And Sue is lucky to also have support in the classroom.

“I have a very supportive teacher who understands that issues need to be addressed as soon as possible. She is a rep for the National Education Union [the union for teachers] and we work very well in our class team, recently we ensured the school implemented proper health and safety precautions around Covid.”

Sue admits it’s not always easy convincing others to take the plunge and become active, but she’d like to encourage anyone stepping up to do so, assuring would-be reps or contacts that they would be fully trained and supported.

“Although it’s been stressful at times, over the years I’ve been a rep my confidence has grown as will yours, enabling you to deal with whatever arises.”

There are lots of ways to get involved with UNISON and improve the situation in your school. Why not start with being a schools contact?

You will

  • be point of contact between members at your school and the UNISON branch,
  • recruit new members,
  • give support to members at work by advising them where to seek assistance,
  • keep notice boards up to date with the latest UNISON information,
  • distribute information to members,
  • Share information with colleagues and other UNISON members,
  • Have regular conversations with members in your school,
  • Encourage more members to get involved with their union!

Even if you feel you could just do a couple of things on this list you would be an ideal candidate for becoming a UNISON school contact. So please get in touch so we can tell you more.