Only one in five County Durham schools closed due to teaching assistants' strike

Teaching assistants on a previous demo outside County Hall in Durham.

Teaching assistants on a previous demo outside County Hall in Durham.

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More than 80% of County Durham schools remained open during today's strike by teaching assistants.

On the first day of two days of strike action over contact changes that would see them paid term time, and for the hours they work, 43 of Durham County Council’s 243 schools were closed, with the rest either fully open or with only limited impact on classes.

Click here for a full list of affected schools
John Hewitt, Durham County Council’s corporate director for resources, said: “These changes – which see us following in the footsteps of all but one other authority in the North East, and many nationally - are about equal pay, not about cuts or austerity, and bringing teaching assistants into line with all other staff at the council.

“We appreciate this is an emotive subject, but it is not one that we can ignore.

"The legal advice is clear that the status quo is not fair and we cannot continue to pay people for hours and weeks they do not work.

“To do nothing risks many millions of pounds of equal pay claims, which would have a devastating effect on the services we can provide and jobs.

"That equal pay risk is very real and we have now received claims using teaching assistants as a comparator.

“However, just because we have to do this, does not mean that we do not value our staff.

"We have worked extensively and consulted and negotiated for 14 months to try and minimise the impact on them, by offering compensation and increased hours.

“It is disappointing that members of Unison and ATL chose to reject our final offer of two years compensation, which effectively delayed the effect on wages of these changes until April 2019, and decided to strike.

“We appreciate and are grateful for the work of headteachers, governors and staff who kept most schools and classes open at what is clearly a difficult time, helping to minimise disruption for children and parents.

“Looking ahead, our pupils’ education remains of paramount importance and we will work with schools to mitigate any further disruption.

“And though we are clear that our two-year compensation offer was final, the deadline has passed, and the offer withdrawn – with those who didn’t accept receiving one year’s compensation from January 2017 - should Unison and ATL wish us to put it back on the table then we remain willing to discuss that with them.”