DRESSED in their trade mark blue and yellow, a group of about 50 teaching assistants and their supporters gathered outside County Hall.

Their decision to hold a rally followed the news last week that Unison members, representing a majority of the school workers, had voted to accept an offer by Durham County Council following two years of negotiations, strikes and protests.

Shildon teaching assistant Lisa Turnbull, a former Unison steward who has now left the union following the ballot, said: “It’s a show of solidarity. There are 472 teaching assistants still losing and we always said our strength is our togetherness.

“People are angry and upset so another TA suggested a solidarity rally. We had one at this time last year and we thought we would come together again so everybody can have support and show support.

“There are a lot of different opinions. People have voted yes but we’re not saying it’s a victory and we’re not celebrating.

“We just don’t have a lot of confidence. We fought for so long, none of us can sit at home.”

The dispute over the contracts of more than 2,100 school workers has been ongoing since 2015, when Durham County Council proposed changes aimed at reducing its risk of equal pay claims.

The council said their contracts meant that teaching assistants were being paid for 37 hours a week, but were only working 32 hours, term-time only – a situation which it said was unfair to its other employees.

Last week when it was announced the latest offer had been accepted, the council said it was pleased to have found a resolution to the 'complex' matter, which it said was 'fair to our entire workforce'.

THIS time last year, teaching assistants were facing the prospect of being fired and re-hired over the Christmas period, with some looking at pay cuts of up to 23 per cent.

Instead, a new grading structure will be introduced from January 2018 and a career progression board established, which is aimed at reducing the pay cuts of the 472 members of staff still set to lose money.

Unison has praised the deal, saying it means the majority of teaching assistants will not face pay cuts and that the progression board is a way forward.

Responding to the vote, Nikki Woodhouse, who works with children with special educational needs in Bishop Auckland, said: “I cried. It didn’t surprise me but I do understand it and I have no bad feelings against anyone who voted yes."

She added: "I could go and get another job but it’s not about that, it’s about the children. We’ve been fighting a stigma around teaching assistants for years but this has been a kick in the teeth."

Vicki Yarrow, from Coxhoe, said: “There’s a lot of frustration and disappointment and not everyone is celebrating. There are still 472 losers so we’re here to show support for them and make ourselves visible to the county council and to Unison to let them know we’re keeping an eye on them and holding them to account and to let the public know this isn’t finished.

"It’s only going to be over when the council and Unison keep their promises."

Elaine Dixon added: “We wanted to come out because we don’t want people to think it’s all over and sorted.

"It’s not just us we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for the kids.

"At the end of the day we’ve been let down and the kids have been let down."

During two years the campaign has swelled to include hundreds of teaching assistants from across the county, with countless meetings, dozens of rallies and protests, four days of strike action, and invitations to conferences and trade union events across the country.

Ms Turnbull added: "At the start there were three of us and we thought we were on our own and now we know people who are all over County Durham. There’s been a show of strength and I’m so proud to have done this.

"I never wanted to do this but I don’t like unfairness."

Ms Yarrow added: "Two years ago I wouldn’t have given a speech in front of a thousand people or been interviewed on camera. This has changed us. This has changed us from just mums and wives and daughters. We have a cause and people are talking about the Durham TAs all over the country."