Thursday 23 June 2016

The Scandal of the Durham Teaching Assistants

On 31st December, Durham County Council intends to sack all 2700 of its Teaching Assistants, 94 per cent of whom are women.

On 1st January, it intends to rehire them all on a 25 per cent pay cut. It would then be paying its Teaching Assistants less than any other authority in the country.

There is no point blaming “the Tories”. There are only four of those on Durham County Council, and they abstained.

The Independents and the Liberal Democrats voted against this, while a huge number of Labour members absented themselves.

Just enough, in fact, for this measure to be passed by a majority of one.

Even those of us who grew up around such things can still be taken aback when we see the game played with quite that level of ruthlessness and cynicism.

No authority is doing this apart from one that has been massively Labour-dominated since before living memory. Something similar has been successfully averted in Conservative-controlled Barnet.

The blame and the shame are those of the shiny-suited, management-speaking throwbacks who still control the Labour Group at County Hall, Durham.

No, Teaching Assistants are not “paid for the holidays”. They never have been.

In relatively recent decades, they have been paid in the holidays, because before that they used to sign on outside the school terms. They were entirely within their rights.

The decision was then taken to divide their term-time wage by 12 and to pay it monthly. That, and that alone, remains the situation.

Cutting that rate of pay by 25 per cent, therefore, would take it below the national minimum wage.

Neil Kinnock once disowned a Labour council from the platform of a Labour Party Conference, in the presence of that council's leading figures.

When he addresses the Durham Miners’ Gala next month, Jeremy Corbyn needs to denounce the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – scuttling round a county, handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. 

The Teaching Assistants, whose cause is fully supported by the Durham Miners’ Association (which is still active in welfare and campaigning, as well as in organising the Gala), will march on that day, Saturday 9th July. I for one will march with them.

As should you, if you are at all able. 

Over any distance, I can barely walk. But I will be marching for two miles, and every local Labour grandee on the balcony of the Royal County Hotel can tell Corbyn why we are marching.

Assemble by 8:30am in the Market Place. 

Then, next May, every councillor who voted for this needs to lose his or her seat. And with it, the allowance that was increased in the same week as this vicious measure was approved.

At £13,300, even the basic allowance was already higher than many Teaching Assistants were paid even before this cut.

Many Teaching Assistants will soon be paid less than the £12,000 that is the Chairman’s clothing allowance.

The Chairman will open the formal proceedings on the platform of the Gala. Let us see what kind of reception he will receive from the crowd. 

I know many of the councillors who voted for this. I cast my first ever vote for one of them, and I have voted for him at every opportunity over the 20 years since.

I have known him and several of the others for decades, by no means only through politics. 

But politics is what this is, and none of them will lose their homes when they lose their allowances. Whereas many Teaching Assistants are indeed on the brink of losing their homes.

Please follow @ta_hltaUK on Twitter, and the #ValueUs hashtag. See you in Durham next month.


  1. Next May when voting comes around and councillors jobs are on the line the public should be reminded of not just those who actually voted for this disgusting action but ALSO those councillors who conveniently absented themselves from the vote which then resulted in the motion being carried with a majority of one vote.

    1. People must make their own judgement on that, especially if they live in one of those councillors' wards, as I do not. But the overall strategic priority must be the removal of those who voted in favour.