AROUND 1,100 teaching assistants took part in a viral internet trend to draw attention to the pay cuts they are facing.

The Durham County Council workers staged a protest outside the authority’s headquarters at County Hall, Durham, this morning before marching to the city centre.

Teaching assistants plan further strike action over wage dispute

It was the second day of a 48-hour walk out, which has seen around 100 schools affected, with 23 closed completely.

They are striking over contract changes which will mean they are paid during term-time only – which the council says will reduce inequalities with other staff.

Armed with whistles, trumpets and drums, around 1,100 teaching assistants took part in the rally, as part of which they did a “mannequin challenge” – which saw them freeze for five minutes while holding placards displaying their pay losses.

Teaching assistants say they will lose up to 23 per cent of their pay, and are calling on the council to regrade their jobs to mitigate the cut. They face being dismissed in December and re-hired in January on new contracts.

Megan Charlton, from the County Durham Teaching Assistants Activists Committee, said: “We hope the council will sit down and actually negotiate. They say the door is open but it’s not because they say they’re not budging from their position.

“We’re not looking for more money, we just don’t want to lose what we have.”

Councillor Jane Brown, cabinet member for corporate services, said: “As we have said all along this is not a position that we would choose to be in, and we very much value our teaching assistants, but the legal advice is clear – we have no choice but to address the current inequality that sees the majority of teaching assistants being paid for hours they do not work whilst receiving up to six weeks of additional paid holiday compared with other council staff.

“If we do not rectify the situation it could lead to many millions of pounds of equal pay claims – claims that we are already starting to see from staff who feel the teaching assistants’ current terms are unfair.”

“We sympathise with staff who will unfortunately see some loss of earnings, but we have done everything possible to mitigate that for as long as possible.”

Teaching assistants refute claims they are paid during holidays.

Campaign organiser Lisa Turnbull, said: “We’re getting more determined. We’ve taken strength from each other and the more we have struggled the more confident we are.

“We’re being treated as second class citizens. This is affecting relationships and families and people’s health.

“This whole thing goes against everything I’ve been brought up for. I’m very proud to be from the North-East and it offends me being treated like this. It’s no way to treat a working person who is looking after the future generation.”

Meanwhile it has emerged that there are fewer teaching assistants working in the county than this time last year. A council spokesman confirmed it currently is employs 2,398 teaching assistants, and said about 2,500 were employed in December 2015.

In May, councillors were told there were about 2,700 teaching assistants – a figure the spokesman said was a high estimate to account for changing needs between academic years.

Stanley Crook pensioner Dave Ayre, 85, who joined teaching assistants for the demonstration, said: “Durham has never seen anything like it. It’s more than a protest – it’s a revolt against the established order.”

Further strikes are planned for December 1 and from December 6 to 8.