Teaching assistant protest in Durham on Saturday 25 March 2017. Photo: Megan Charlton Teaching assistant protest in Durham on Saturday 25 March 2017. Photo: Megan Charlton

The activist committee has serious concerns about the proposal

Durham County Council has voted 52 to 36 to put a new proposal to Teaching Assistants in an attempt to end a 21 month campaign against pay cuts of up to 23%. We understand that Councillors only received the papers at 5pm on Monday and some have expressed their concern that the papers did not contain any details about the proposed new grading structure and, most importantly, that the timescale did not give them the opportunity to seek further information or to consult with their TA constituents whose lives will be affected. We asked councillors to delay the vote and Councillor Owen Temple proposed a motion to delay which was voted down 52 to 36.

You may have read in the media that many TAs will get a pay rise. Please note that the ‘rise’ quoted in the Council papers is in two years’ time and much of it is accounted for by expected national pay rises during that time. We do not want, nor have we ever asked for, a pay rise; we simply want a deal that is fair for all.

We hope that you will spend a few minutes reading the attached response of the County Durham Teaching Assistants Activist Committee which details our concerns over the large number of Teaching Assistants still facing a pay cut and the new grading structure which underpins the new proposal.

The Committee would like to publicly thank Owen Temple for his unwavering support from day one of our campaign. He has constantly listened to us, challenged the Council and stood with us at every opportunity. Owen and Alex Watson walked with us at The Gala last year and we hope that they, and other supportive councillors, will join us again on July 8th.

Thank you for your support.
CDTAA Committee

Today, Durham County Council voted to put a new proposal to Teaching Assistants. They say it is an improved offer and will see 78% of Teaching Assistants not losing money. However, the County Durham Teaching Assistants’ Activist Committee have serious concerns about the proposal for the following reasons:

22% of TAs are still facing a pay loss.

They might have their pay protected for 2 years but they have already had 21 months of extreme stress not knowing if they can keep their homes or their jobs.

Our campaign has been built on solidarity and we are not comfortable with the large number of TAs still facing losses – 472 people with families and homes. Having fought together and supported each other for nearly two years, it will be very difficult for any of us to work alongside colleagues who will be facing a loss when some of us are not.

We have been promised that the additional hours we have had to agree to in order to avoid an equal pay claim will be applied flexibly in recognition of the many extra hours we already work. We have been assured that this will mean no change in our core hours or our current working practices. However, already Headteachers are telling their TAs that they will have to change their working hours to incorporate the additional 4.5 hours a week and insisting this is based on guidance from HR. This is not the deal we thought we were being offered and we are concerned that it will be applied inconsistently across our schools.

Teaching Assistants were involved in the input into the review process: a TA workstream worked hard to write new job descriptions that adequately reflected the jobs that we do. There was a general recognition that the current Level 3 is the ‘core’ teaching assistant role and this is reflected in the fact that the majority of Teaching Assistants are currently L3 (Grade 4)*. Consequently we based the new ‘Teaching Assistant’ job description on the current Level 3 but with additional responsibilities which reflect how the role has evolved since 2012.

We then wrote job descriptions for an Enhanced TA and an HLTA, based on the TA role but with extra responsibilities, mainly for whole class teaching.

Although TAs were involved in writing the Job Descriptions and a TA was present in the Project Team meetings along with other Trade Union representatives and Headteachers, there was no TA present in the negotiations to solve this dispute.

Unfortunately, neither the TA workstream nor the TA Stewards were given any information on the outcome of the process which evaluated these new job descriptions.

We asked repeatedly for the point scores and the new grading structure but were never given this information, simply assured that ‘everything was fine’.

We have found out very recently that the Teaching Assistant level was only evaluated as a Grade 3 – a grade BELOW the level it was based on.

The effect of this is that the current Level 3 TAs could not be assimilated onto this level as they would have been moved DOWN a grade AND lost the extra weeks of pay, leading to a large pay loss for the biggest group.

Consequently, we believe that they have been assimilated onto the new Enhanced level which has a requirement to teach a whole class for one session a week. This means that, in order to avoid a pay loss, a significant number of TAs will have to take on a significant extra responsibility (teaching a whole class) in order to avoid a pay cut.

When we have asked to see the point scores to understand why this is the case, we have been told that the Council would not give the scores to Unison.

We find this very surprising and disappointing as we feel that we should have an opportunity to question and challenge the outcome and we would have expected Unison to do this at the time.

There has been a general acceptance throughout this dispute that many of the current problems have been caused by issues with the point scores in 2012.

Not having seen the current point scores, we cannot say if there are any issues this time or if anything could be done to address the surprisingly low grade of the standard TA role.

A lot of good work has gone into the review process on all sides and there has been a genuine desire from the Council to find a solution that works for everyone.

However, we genuinely believe that there is a better alternative which would leave far fewer Teaching Assistants facing losses but that this alternative hinges on understanding why the grading came out so differently to what was expected.

We went into this process all agreeing that this was our opportunity to address many past and current issues and to ‘get it right’. Unfortunately, we do not feel that this is the case: we don’t think that the new grading structure is right as we believe that the vast majority of TAs will now be expected to teach whole classes. Anyone not wanting to teach a whole class will not be able to progress beyond a Grade 3.

We believe that this dispute can be resolved without our members losing pay or being made to work more hours than they are already working now.

We demand the following: 

UNISON suspends a ballot on this offer and demands the Council reopen talks to reach an agreement that leaves no TA on a worse salary than at present.

An emergency meeting with a number of Durham TAs , Unison and senior council is called to look at which workers are losing and why.

The Council provides details of the all of the job evaluation scores.

The Council commits to looking at alternative proposals to avoid pay cuts.

That any future proposal is concluded before the end of December.

Unison to carry out a presentation of the new proposals BEFORE balloting members.

If the above is not agreed we will be actively advising members to reject this divisive and unfair proposal.

We call upon all of our supporters to send us messages of support and solidarity in our time if need. 

*current grading system:
Level 1 – Grade 1
Level 2 – Grade 2
Level 3 – Grade 4
Level 3 Enhanced – Grade 5
HLTA – Grade 6