A hard habit to drop

Caring about her school will be a hard habit to drop for recently retired school support staff administrator Elizabeth Chipman.

Elizabeth finished at Regina Coeli Primary, Beverly Hills last year after 23 years in the front office, where she performed a variety of tasks including accounting, first aid, enrolments, reception, assisting the executive, other staff members and anything else that needed doing.

Like many older support staff, involvement in schools started as soon as she had school-age children, beginning as a volunteer in the canteen and on the Parent & Friends Committee and Sports Association, graduating to a paid job at Casimir Catholic College, Marrickville in 1988, then on to Regina Coeli.

Of course she has seen big changes to work practices over the years, mainly due to technological advances.

“We started with a red book for cheques and a blue book for receipts and hand written receipts, cards with all the parents’ details on them, including school fee invoices and payments.

“Since then we’ve been through OASIS, eSchool and SAS, and emails, Google, 10 folders per year to keep accounting and admin records.”

For 10 years Elizabeth served on the Sydney CEO’s Equal Opportunities Committee.

“When I started we looked at bullying and harassment, we also looked at teachers being able to job share under the Flexible Employment Arrangement Guidelines.

“I was not just fighting for staff with young children. I was really aware that some teachers and staff had elderly parents they had to care for. I believed in fighting for their right to family or carers’ leave. “

The extensive ground covered by the Committee included exploring school support roles, assisted in the writing of enhancing careers for support staff, a study of relative workloads of support staff in primary and secondary and exploring strategies to develop school staff with potential for leadership roles.

It also looked at career impacts on return from maternity leave; supporting women on maternity leave and returning to work; women in non-traditional roles, revision of coordinator roles and contract renewals processes and the revision of the Equal Opportunity Policy.

Sadly, when she retired Elizabeth was disappointed by a ‘skills audit’ she was forced to undertake by the CEO, last year, which she felt did not acknowledge her experience and achievements in her role. Nor did it take into consideration the compassion and empathy required by school office staff.

Nevertheless, when she walks past her old school in the mornings she notices if the toilet windows have been left open, or if the flag is flying. “My husband says I’ve got to move on. The teachers wave and say hello when I pass on my morning walk. As do the parents I meet when shopping.”

Elizabeth was also a member the support staff committee for her region, organising biannual in-services and a regional mass.

“It was a great way of networking. The committee used to meet in the pub until the CEO took over and we were asked to meet in the regional office. Our numbers drifted off after that.”

Elizabeth has always believed in the collective as a way towards a better career, and she joined the clerical union in 1988, until the IEU started covering support staff. She’s been a member since 1997.

“I think support staff who don’t join the IEU are not helping their cause. It’s great that support staff are in the same Union with teachers. We are all part of one big operation, one big family really. We need the Union to continue the work it has done over the years, it has significantly contributed to the working conditions which we have today.”

... support staff that don’t join the IEU aren’t helping their own cause.