“Government should pay us what we are worth and respect us for what we do”

Alastair Gittins
4 min readJul 2, 2020

Key workers have kept our communities running and safe during the coronavirus lockdown. UNISON Cymru Wales caught up with Sarah Greenslade, a school support worker and part of the Vulnerable Learning Team in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Team members can be placed in any of the Vale’s schools depending on the needs of specific students. Sarah is working in Pencoedtre High School assisting vulnerable learners and those with English as an additional language between the ages of 11 and 16.

Sarah Greenslade

Tell us about your job during the pandemic

As a team, we have carried on supporting our core group; Looked After Children and children with English as an additional language. Some older children are going on to Further Education or university and I’ve been helping with some basic literacy work to keep their English skills on track.

For the younger children with English as an additional language, it’s all about expanding their knowledge and helping them practice basic grammar and maths. We are helping to keep things as interesting as we can for them so when they return they will be able to pick up where they left off. We have been contacting pupils asking how they are doing and if there is anything they need.

Part of my working week is in the Colcot school hub supporting vulnerable learners. One student likes to play the piano and I’m helping to teach him to read music. It’s not just education-based; we’ve been growing plants and cooking with students too.

What’s your view of how public service workers have responded to the crisis?

People have put their hands up to help in the new ways of working. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has not gone over and above their job description.

Colleagues have been trying to find ways of contacting our vulnerable learners to make sure they are ok. Some students are dyslexic or autistic and the Learning Support Assistants (LSA) have gone out of their way to keep lines of communication open to check on learners’ welfare. We are always asking each other, ‘Have you heard from this or that child?” checking in and keeping everyone involved and up-to-date, making the return to school as smooth as possible.

Sarah at a team gathering pictured pre-lockdown

In the education department, everyone is doing more. Everyone is saying “Yeah, I’ll do that”; “Count me in for that!”; “Oh, I’ll do that”. There is a huge feeling of pulling together to get a positive outcome from this crisis.

I know of a Vale care home worker, who when it was coming up to Mother’s Day was concerned female residents would not see their children or grandchildren. So she went and bought daffodils out of her own money for every female resident in the care home.

Locally, there is Face Book group for the community and if you can’t do the shopping, you can contact them. Many of our UNISON members have responded to these calls, volunteering to help their community on top of their jobs. The community spirit is really good.

What’s your message to the government?

You can’t print it! The government should pay us what we are worth and respect us for what we do.

It’s mind-boggling how at Westminster there seems to be one rule for the elite on lockdown and one for the rest of us.

The UK government in the past has dismissed people as “only bin men”, or “only care workers,” or “only LSAs”. Dear God! The school hubs couldn’t run without LSAs, the kitchen staff and all the other support staff.

Within two days’ notice of school closures because of the lockdown, schools made sure every child had access to Google Classroom or hard copies of work to do. If they didn’t have access to a laptop or tablet, schools have been going the extra mile to ensure they now have one. What they’ve done is amazing.

How are you going to celebrate the end of the lockdown?

I am going to give my sister a hug! My mother died when I was young and my sister has been like a mum to me. Not being able to hug her has broken my heart.

Sarah and her sister at her wedding

In April, we missed her birthday, my daughter’s birthday, the anniversary of my mum passing away and my birthday. An emotional month.

She’s older than me and I’ve been doing her shopping for her but all we’ve been able to do is shouted conversations from the driveway. The first time I drove away, I had tears in my eyes. You take the physical contact for granted.

When we can, we are going out to spend a bit of money on wool because we both love knitting!