THE BLOG

The Durham Teaching Assistants Are Brave But Their Employers Are Right

01/12/2016 11:11

It's not like me to stick my nose in affairs that are really none of my business so when it comes to the fight by Durham Teaching Assistants striking to stop a cash strapped County Council from cutting their pay I have stayed out of the fray.

But I can't keep quiet any longer.

You see I have literally been on every side of this argument that is currently raging in the North East of England.

I am a County Councillor that has been responsible for the scrutiny of Children and Families, I'm a school governor but I'm also a member of support staff in academy schools, and prior to that maintained ones, who has done the exact same work that these highly valued teaching assistants do every time that they go to work.

For the uninformed several thousand teaching assistants in Durham have been informed by their employers, Durham County Council, that from next year the terms and conditions of their employment will be changed to a contract of term time pay only. In short, with the addition of some additional hours for training and statutory holiday pay Durham teaching assistants will be paid for the hours that they work.

At the minute teaching assistants in that County are paid during the school holidays. The County Council wants to move them on to terms and conditions that mirror staff doing the same job, including me, up and down the country. For some, very sadly, the change in contract will result in a pay cut of up to 23%.

I'm certain that one reason that the employer wants to make the change is to save money but perhaps even more importantly they are concerned that not doing so will lead to claims by other employees in commensurate jobs who are not so fortunate to be paid the best part of three months to stay at home.

The Durham Teaching Assistants understandably feel hard done by. They have had their current terms and conditions for many years, but more importantly they are dedicated, hardworking staff that have a real impact on outcomes for children. If I were in the same situation I would probably feel aggrieved too.

But I'm not in the same situation. For my support work in schools I get paid, like vast numbers of other teaching assistants do, for the hours that I work.

And you know what? That's fair.

I'm not a teacher. Just like other members of support staff I don't plan lessons, I don't assess progress and I'm not responsible for behaviour. I support professionals who do that and my job isn't the same at all.

In fact in many ways my job has got more in common with care workers or refuse operatives who turn up to work, do their job with pride and to the highest standard that they can, and then go home.

It's not unfair to expect my terms and conditions will be commensurate with them too.

As a County Councillor my mind would go automatically to those staff, and if I were them I would be asking why I wasn't being paid to have the same holiday as teaching assistants?

The Durham Teaching Assistants are gathering a lot of support, even on the national media. I'm not surprised, they do a great job.

But when you ask yourself the cold, hard question why are they paid over the holidays, like teachers, when others doing similar jobs do not you can only ever arrive at one answer.

Getting to that answer, like Durham County Council has done, doesn't make you any less caring or for them any less Labour - in fact the transitional arrangements they are offering to the TAs are very 'Labour'.

But the County Council is rightly massively concerned about the potential for massive legal claims from other employees and the resulting impact on local residents.

The employer should be applauded for taking a tough but correct decision rather than being vilified for not taking the easy one.

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