ANGRY and disillusioned teaching assistants say further strikes are still a possibility following the approval of a revised “final” offer from the local authority which employs them.

Durham County Council yesterday approved the offer for its teaching assistants – and trade union Unison will now ballot its members.

The proposed new deal follows further negotiations in the long-running dispute, which has now lasted for around two years.

The deal, described by the council as the “final offer”, is a revision of one rejected by Unison members in July.

Teaching assistant Elaine Dixon, from the grassroots group leading the school workers’ campaign, said the mood suggested it would not be acceptable to members.

She said: “The feeling on social media is that it will be rejected because it’s no different.

“We still have the option to strike. That’s the only thing that seems to bring them to the table.”

Jan Clymo, also a member of the teaching assistants' committee, said they wanted more clarification on the proposals.

She said: "The TAs I've spoken to today are very angry and disillusioned and I think they would be ready to strike again if it was required.

"I think we will stick together and support each other through it, whatever the outcome."

The new contracts would see teaching assistants work 37 hours a week and 40 weeks a year with a revised grading structure. The offer now includes the introduction of a career progression board – thought to be the first of its kind in the country.

Councillor Jane Brown said: “Councillors should not forget 83 per cent of the workforce are working the terms and conditions being proposed for teaching assistants and they can’t ignore that these proposals are all about fairness and equality across the workforce.”

She added: "As Labour councillors we believe all our employees should be valued equally."

The council started the process following legal advice that it faces equal pay claims – of which it has now received more than 200.

Head of resources John Hewitt said: “Doing nothing is not an option for the council without giving rise to the significant financial risk of equal pay claims.”

An amendment by Lib Dem Cllr Owen Temple to refer the issue to the council’s scrutiny board was defeated.

Independent Cllr Alex Watson said: “I sincerely believe at this point in time it would be folly to agree the provision as a final offer when we know full well it’s likely to be rejected.

“No matter how this offer is dressed up, it means more hours for less pay for a significant number of teaching assistants.”

Unison northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “It’s been a long, hard road, but giving the county’s teaching assistants a role in finding solutions has convinced councillors to come up with a better offer.

“Teaching assistants’ voices have been heard, and their experiences listened to. The new offer wouldn’t have been possible without their input.

"The overall package puts us in a much better place, and is a substantial improvement on what was proposed a year ago."