A PROJECT team has been set up as part of ongoing negotiations over County Durham teaching assistants’ dispute over contracts.

Durham County Council is undertaking a full review of the role and responsibilities of the 2,400 teaching assistants who work for the authority, which is due to be completed by September.

Talks between the council and unions Unison, Unite and GMB started in December following four days of strike action by teaching assistants.

The dispute is over changes so teaching assistants will be paid during term-time only, which they say would result in a pay cut of up to 23 per cent, or 10 per cent if they agree to do more hours.

The project team includes representatives from the council and unions and also includes input from a team of 15 teaching assistants and headteachers.

Clare Williams, Unison’s regional secretary, said: “We think it’s very important teaching assistants are involved in the process and the council has agreed to that.

“From a Unison perspective we are keen to make progress quickly because we think teaching assistants want to not be worried about their jobs and wages. We want to negotiate properly but we are clear there needs to be a sense of urgency about this.”

John Hewitt, the council’s director of resources, said: “We are committed to progressing the review as quickly as possible, considering all of the options available including the option for a more simplified structure for teaching assistant roles.

The issue has been ongoing for around 18 months, with the council deciding to make the changes following legal advice that existing arrangements leave it at risk of equal pay challenges.

Teaching assistants are hoping to keep their dispute in the public eye with a week-long demonstration outside the council’s headquarters at County Hall, in Durham.

Several teaching assistants will remain a presence there throughout this week, which is February half-term, before a rally on Friday morning

A further solidarity rally for campaign supporters is being held next month.

Teaching assistant Jan Clymo, said: “A lot of people think it’s sorted and it’s not. It’s still in negotiations.

“It’s a chance to thank the public for their ongoing support and to let them know we are still here and still fighting.”