Schools to close as Durham teaching assistants take second two-day strike action

More than 100 primary schools across County Durham will be affected tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday as teaching assistants strike for a second time in a long-running dispute over cuts to their pay.

School support staff plan to protest at dozens of picket lines across the county over the two days. This will mean the closure of some schools completely, says their union UNISON.

From this Friday until the end of term, teaching assistants will only work their regular hours. So instead of working through their breaks, coming in early, staying late and taking work home, they willstart and end their working day as set out in their contracts.

This action short of strike action follows a ballot over Durham County Council’s decision to move teaching assistants onto term-timecontracts. This move will see school support staff lose up to 23% of their wages.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Durham council can no longer have any doubts about how seriously teaching assistants are taking this dispute.

“Council plans to slash the salaries of its already low-paid staff are appalling and heartless.

“Surely now councillors will see sense and get round the negotiating table with a proper offer. Teaching assistants hate the idea of inconveniencing parents but this is now the only way for school support workers to win the pay they deserve.”

UNISON northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Teaching assistants are dedicated to their jobs and the children they teach.

“But they shouldn’t have to survive on wages so low they don’t know how they will pay their bills once their wages have been cut. Councillors should settle this dispute so that teaching assistants can go back to the jobs they love.”

– More than 100 schools will be either closed or partially closed during the two-day dispute. Clare Williams will be showing her support for teaching assistants by attending picket lines at Thornhill Primary, Timothy Hackworth Primary, St John’s CE Primary and Bryerly Park Primary.

– Pickets will take place on Wednesday and Thursday. Morning pickets will take place from 7.45am approx and afternoon ones from 3pm approx. Contact the regional press office for more details.

– UNISON balloted 1,755 teaching assistants. For legal reasons, the union had to conduct two separate ballots – one for employees in faith schools and another for those directly employed by the council. Ninety-three per cent of county council employees who voted backed strike action. The figure was the same for those working in faith schools.

– Councillors voted in May to dismiss the classroom assistants and re-employ them on term-time contracts.

– UNISON has set up a national fund, to be administered by its northern region, so that none of the striking teaching assistants suffer unnecessary financial hardship.