A number of you have been asking me about my stance on the Teaching Assistant issue in Durham. I hope you find the following response helpful.
I know how important the work of Teaching Assistants is in County Durham. I have met with many Teaching Assistants over the past year and seen how they make a big difference, especially to SEN children. I also saw how they frequently work beyond the hours they are paid for because of their dedication to what they do.
Teaching Assistants do a complex and skilled job and should be recognised for the educational professionals that they are. They so some of the most challenging work in schools, often with children with complex behavioural and educational needs, as well as helping gifted and talented children make the most of their talent. They are often the first to hear about children’s problems, or to deal with conflict. They sometimes take responsibility for entire classes. Like teachers, they work many more hours than they are contracted for – but are still some of the lowest paid public sector workers.
Durham Constituency Labour Party voted unanimously to support Teaching Assistants. So concerned was I about the lack of progress with the Teaching Assistant issue by the Council that I invited Teaching Assistant representatives to the November 2016 meeting of the Durham Constituency Labour Party to talk to us about what we could do to support their campaign further. The CLP voted unanimously to support the Teaching Assistants. I have continued to work with Unison and the Council since then to try and get a resolution to the dispute. I had a further meeting with Unison this morning.
The dispute between the teaching assistants and Durham County Council has been going on far too long. It is over 20 months since they first objected to the changes in their contracts. I have been pressing Durham County Council to sort this out for over a year. Fortunately some progress has been made recently and a new grading structure is being developed. Given this, it is essential that Durham County Council now withdraws the dismissal notices which are still outstanding.
There is however a bigger threat on the horizon. The Tories in charge in London have already cut Durham County Council’s funding in half and taken £180 million from local services. It shouldn’t be teaching assistants who pay the price for these cuts, but if the Tories hadn’t cut the Council’s funding, we would not be in this situation. Moreover, if the Tories get back into power they will press ahead with a new funding formula which will see cuts of over £400 per pupil across County Durham, and teachers and teaching assistants will lose their jobs. We must resist this at all costs. The result of the election on 8th June will have a decisive impact on our schools, our NHS and our other public services. We need to unite and fight the Tories.
Under the last Labour government, we didn’t cut the money spent on schools; in fact spending per pupil doubled. Labour’s policy is to end the public sector pay cap and to ensure that no school is left worse off from changes to funding. The choice in the Durham City constituency is between me and the Tories. If I am re-elected, I will continue to argue for a fairer deal for teaching assistants and stand up for young people.