Durham Council follows academy chains in teaching assistant restructures

Durham Council follows academy chains in teaching assistant restructures

A council will terminate the contracts of 2,700 teaching assistants and offer them lower pay deals, following soon after similar announcements by three academy chains.

Durham County Council is preparing to offer its teaching assistants term-time only pay deals – meaning staff could lose up to £400 per month, according to union members.

It follows similar restructures announced by three academy chains in recent months, as reported by Schools Week.

The trusts said the proposed redundancies that covered both teachers and supply staff across all their schools was necessary to meet squeezed budgets.

But Durham council said it had to act after independent legal advice found the authority was at risk of equal pay challenges from other staff.

The council said teaching assistants are currently paid for working 37 hours a week, for 52 weeks year, but in reality they work 32.5 hours a week during school term-time only.

Cllr Jane Brown, cabinet member for corporate services at Durham County Council, said the council had an “obligation to address this to protect public finances”.

“These proposals are aimed at ensuring fairness and parity across our workforce. They are about ensuring that teaching assistants, like all other council employees, are paid only for the hours they actually work.”

Councillors voted to pass the proposals at a council meeting last night (Monday). The council will now look to terminate contracts and offer teaching assistants the new deals by January 2017.

Helen Metcalf, regional officer for the Unison union, told the Northern Echo: “Our members have already indicated, in a consultative ballot, that they overwhelmingly reject these proposals, when 95 per cent voted against the proposed changes.”

It is believed only a minority of councils still pay teaching assistants on full-year terms.

Schools Week reported last year how a union campaign had stopped South Tyneside Council from switching support staff contracts from 52- to 39-week contracts, but it is believed the council now employs new staff on the term-time only deals.

David Browne, lead employment partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said the move by Durham council seemed a pre-emptive one – but said each council has differing risks regarding equal pay.

“Big discrepancies between the pay of men and women may lead to potential challenges, but this may be a quite defensive approach.”

Schools Week reported last week how a third academy chain in as many months had told staff across its schools they could face redundancy.

It follows headteachers claiming they face an erosion of up £200,000 in their annual budgets once increases in national insurance and pension payment contributions are factored in.

Two of the trusts, The Academy Transformation Trust and Burnt Mill Academy Trust, planned to make support staff redundant or make them reapply for roles with different terms.

Last year Unison called for a national review into term-time working arrangements, saying treating teachers as full-time employees but reducing salaries of support staff was “divisive”.

A petition launched last year urged the government to ensure support staff are paid full-year contracts.

It got more than 18,000 signatures, but the government responded to say it is down to employers, either the local authority or academy chain, to decide pay.