NEW proposals will be put to County Durham teaching assistants in the next few weeks following further negotiations in the bitter dispute over pay and contracts.

Leader of Durham County Council Councillor Simon Henig told a meeting of the full council that the project group set up in December to complete a review of teaching assistant roles and job descriptions is “extremely close” to confirming new grading proposals. 

It follows a council U-turn in December, when it agreed to suspend plans to sack and re-hire teaching assistants following strike action over the proposed new contracts. 

Cllr Henig said: “I can announce we are now extremely close to confirming new grading proposals which will mark a sea change from where we were previously.

“Quite rightly the details of the new proposals will need to be communicated to schools and individual teaching assistants as quickly as possible.

“There will be a full and thorough consultation process and the project board anticipates this next full phase will commence in the coming weeks.”

Cllr Owen Temple, whose motion to withdraw the threat of dismissal was not put on the meeting’s agenda following legal advice, said: “I think every one of us will be happy if this can be resolved in an amicable and fair way.

“I remain disappointed we went down the route we did.”

Speaking after the meeting, teaching assistant Gillian Iveson, who is due to address a protest rally in Durham on Saturday, said: “For us it’s too little too late. The council has put teaching assistants through 18 months of hell. 

“That proposal was put forward straight away by myself and other teaching assistants.”

She added: “We want it guaranteed that we will be getting the same pay for the same hours and if its anything other than that it won’t be sorted.”

A project team involving the council, unions Unison, Unite and GMB, with input from teams of headteachers and teaching assistants has been working on a review of roles and responsibilities, which is due to be completed by September. 

Northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “We are in detailed negotiations with the council and we are working through the review, looking at developing new job descriptions and we are in a very important phase of that at the moment.”

Teaching assistants are expecting trade union activists from across the country to attend the rally on Saturday.

They are meeting in Millennium Square at noon before marching to the rally at the Miners’ Hall in Redhills at 2pm.

Speakers include leaders from the NUT, ATL, Durham Trade Council, Unison, three Durham teaching assistants and a teaching assistant from Derby.