Monday, 19 October 2015

Who cares for the Caseworkers ?

Che Guevara said: "If you tremble with indignation at any injustice, then you are a comrade of mine."

If you tremble with indignation at injustices on a regular basis, chances are you are an NUT caseworker, and one of the most important people in our union.  Lay caseworkers accompany thousands of our members to attendance management, capability, pay appeals, investigations and any other one-to-one meetings where a representative is asked for.   It is one of the great strengths of our union: our members can be supported and advised by a trained caseworker who is also a teacher- they are a peer who understands how schools work, and what our job really entails.

I was able to ask a question of Kevin Courtney at the Division Secretaries' Briefing last week, on the subject of supporting the mental health and well-being of our lay secretaries and caseworkers.

The Union's recent Casework Survey showed that most caseworkers sometimes find that the pressures of casework become a problem; a small group have reported that this is often the case. I was able to give personal experience of this issue- several years ago, I had to take time off work, owing to depressive illness caused, at least in part, by the weight of casework alongside my  teaching responsibilities.  I was lucky in being able to get back to work relatively quickly, although I still have to take care.  When I tremble with indignation at an injustice, I have a tablet I can take, but this is hardly ideal...

My GP asked me why I didn't raise the pressure of casework in my "supervision meetings" (any caseworker will smile ironically at this!)  While I don't believe that formal "supervision" meetings are necessarily needed for lay caseworkers, we do need to ensure that we have mechanisms in place to support each other- whether it is Regional Officials making time available to talk through caseload with lay caseworkers, or if it is a purely mutual set-up: one London Div. Sec told me that he and half a dozen other local secretaries meet up regularly for an informal lunchtime discussion purely focusing on caseload.

In my Vice Presidential campaign, I have very much focused on the need to build capacity in the union to take on the range of challenges we face as a Union and as a profession.  This includes training up additional lay members to take on small casework loads. But- as Annual Conference has discussed on several occasions, there are a number of actions that the Union can take centrally:
  • There is now guidance on which levels of casework should be referred to, and dealt with by, Regional Office staff. This should be circulated to Divisions, and kept to !  If there is a lack of capacity at Regional Offices, we need to re-allocate resources to expand it.
  • The programme of Rep Training needs to be stepped up a gear: we should set ambitious goals for  rep recruitment- NOT because school reps should take on additional casework themselves, but they are well placed to support caseworkers in giving initial advice to members, and in collecting information relating to casework.
  • We have been told that the promised Casework Software is still not ready, because it wasn't a priority. It needs to be a priority !
  • The Union's ASOS programme called for all school initiatives to be "Workload Tested". We need to apply the same principle to our own casework and organising. Who is monitoring the workload of lay caseworkers- not just in terms of hours but in terms of the emotionally draining toll of some of the more complex casework.  

·         Our caseworkers are teachers too- and teacher health, especially mental health, should be at the heart of our Union work. 

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