Appalling treatment of teaching assistants by our Labour-run Council: TA: “I have never in my whole working life ever felt so undervalued, unsupported and unappreciated”

Durham Council has decided it wants to cut the pay of teaching assistants by thousands of pounds a year as well as increase work hours.

Over recent months councillors have received dozens of emails about this. I find myself wondering how it can be possible for Durham Council to be run by the Labour Party and for them to seek to slash the pay of some of the lowest paid members of the teaching profession.

We recently tried to get the plans thrown out at full council but Labour councillors first timed out the debate so they didn’t have to vote, and then when it came back a month later, changed the motion to render it unacceptable. The consultation on new terms has now concluded and we wait to see what our Labour Cabinet comes up with next. If it is anything like that recommended in the proposals, I for one will not be supporting it. It cannot be right to cut someone’s pay by thousands of pounds and increase their hours. It is simply unacceptable.

Across County Durham there are over 2700 teaching assistants. I imagine that the way this Labour-run council has been over this issue is going to have a huge impact on how TAs vote in next years local elections. When you take into account their partners, friends and relatives and all the other residents who will be looking at how TAs are being treated, this one issue alone has the potential to see Labour lose many seats in the May 2017 elections perhaps over 100 votes in every single Electoral Division.

I picked out some emails from TAs to give a feel for just how serious the impact of Labour’s proposals are. If I were a TA I would be very worried, very angry and very upset. We are currently waiting to see when this issue will come back to full council.

Just imagine if tomorrow your pension or salary was cut by 20%, your working ours increased. Then think – and most of this is because of the Labour Party! add in hikes in National Insurance/Pension contributions from the Tories, and other general price increases and these hard working people are really going to suffer…….. Utterly shameful.

Emails below from Tas.

Emails from TAs 1:

I am writing to express my concerns and disgust with regards to the proposed changes to teaching assistant’s contracts. When I applied for my teaching assistant role the terms and conditions were set out clearly in my contract. I was shocked and disheartened when I heard of these proposed changes. I am appalled that we will be expected to work longer hours and paid less. This made me feel worthless and that others believed my job role had no real value. I have not only worked as a teaching assistant but as a teacher so understand the vital role teaching assistants play in the classroom and to school life. I am sure that like many other TA’s I arrive at school before 8:30am and do not leave at 4pm. I have jobs to complete that are vital to our daily routines. I have also been informed that we are not being paid for our 40 minute lunch break or our morning break (which I do not get because I am so busy) which is not the 1 hour per day you assume we have. This does not even include the after school clubs and yard/lunchtime duties that take place throughout the day. I do these things because I love my job and enjoy taking part in school life and helping young children flourish. Although some people think working in a school is an easy 9-3 job with lots of holidays that is certainly not the case. I work weekends planning and making resources for my phonics groups and any other groups of children I may be working with or supporting. During the holidays I come into school to set up ready for after the holidays. I help with displays, preparing resources, tidying the school and making sure I am organised ready to go back to school.  As you can see I already work extra hours to make a positive contribution to school life and the children’s education. I work hard to support children with special education needs and health care plans who need that extra time and attention on a day to day basis. So to be told I am going to be loosing £2000 from my wage and being made to work more because I ‘obviously’ do not do enough to begin with really infuriates me.

We have been likened to admin staff at county hall? I don’t believe that any of the admin staff work (*UNPAID) after 4.30 any day of the week?  Why should we paid the same when our jobs are completely different and require completely different qualifications?  For all there are differences other workers get different terms and conditions that out weigh our pay. They have the luxury to take their holidays when they please yet we can only take ours during the school holidays at a massively inflated price for the privilege. A close friend who is a labourer for the council has an annual salary of £2000 per year more than me. Another case is of a job advertised for a lollipop lady states that they will receive (after their statuary holidays) a retainer of half pay during the rest of the school holidays? Is this fair? Can this be applied to us? We are highly trained members of the education system. Have the persons who came up with this any idea what we actually do in school? We no longer clean paint pots or sharpens pencils. I mark books, teach lessons, assess children and make resources just like a teacher. Schools could not function at this time without us and I feel that if this proposal goes ahead then schools will undoubtedly lose a lot of staff which will have a negative effect on schools – on the learning of children in County Durham. I feel like we need to have an updated job evaluation to show what we actually do and do highlight all the hard work we put into school. It really upsets me to see that I am classed as ‘Non- teaching staff’ when in actual fact I have my own maths and phonics group which I teach and plan for. I also take a literacy group each day to support their early ready and writing. So to be told I am ‘Non-teaching staff’ is actually incorrect as I am responsible for the teaching and learning of the children in my groups.

As I said above we all do extra hours anyway so that is not and never will be the issue. The issue is taking away money from well trained, professional staff! The sums of money that you want to take will have a massive impact on many people’s lives. People saving for a house, saving for their children’s university fees etc. People build their lives around their wage so how can you now suddenly take money from them. The cost of living has increased over the year so how can you justify now taking money from us. Could your household stand to lose 20% of your annual income? I was planning on moving out this year after saving hard. I now have to put it on hold as I am unsure if I am going to be able to afford it. I am now putting my life and future at a standstill because someone has suddenly decided that I don’t work hard enough. I would like the people who put these changes forward come and spend a day in my shoes.
I urge you to reconsider these proposals and listen to the workforce. We are hardworking professionals who go above and beyond in our roles to help children. This can only have a negative impact on schools and the young children within them as morale will surely be effected.  We feel undervalued and will surely only do our contracted hours which in the long run will have a detrimental affect on the council as a whole. I certainly question where the Council of the Year title belongs. As right now I feel like it should be elsewhere. I have always felt proud to be from Durham as it is a hardworking community. I am saddened to say I do not feel proud right now of the County Council. I have never in my whole working life ever felt so undervalued, unsupported and unappreciated.

Email from TAs 2:

Proposed variation to the Local Collective Agreement in relation to classroom based support employees and associated terms and conditions of employment

I am writing to you as my County Councillor to ask for your support in opposing the proposals outlined in a recent letter I received from Durham County Council regarding the proposed changes to my terms and conditions as an Early Years HLTA.

In 2004 the Council recognised the hard work and significant benefits that I as a HLTA, bring to the education of young people within my school, showing that they appreciated the vital role that I and my colleagues perform throughout the year, so how can it be in 2016 that the council want to jeopardise this hard work and dedication. The council are proposing the changes based on a threat of an equality claim, I have asked the council to explain to whom I am being made equal to? Does this person have the same qualifications as I do? Do they have the same level of responsibility for children, responsibility for safeguarding /child protection? I cannot see how any other council employee can make a claim unless the job is the same, so therefore I feel very upset and angry that my contract will be changed and my salary cut by approx. £2000 and my hours increased.

When I accepted the job with my school and DCC  I was offered a salary with terms and conditions which included my current working hours and didn’t include working during the school holidays. In fact my contract states ‘Your holidays will coincide with periods of school closure and public holidays……You will be paid your normal salary during these closure periods.’

I love my job and currently do on average an extra 24 hours a month free of charge for my school, to assist my teacher and to benefit the children within my care. When people apply for jobs, they take in to account their personal circumstances and try to find a job that pays a salary that meets their everyday needs. I have a young family and a mortgage, the proposed pay cut makes me feel undervalued, demoralised and concerned for my families’ future. By cutting my salary you will be jeopardising my family life and the way that I feel about my job; demoralised staff do not make happy members of the school community.

I would like to ask how you would feel to go to work every day for the next three years knowing that at the end of this time you will be on far less money than you are today, including having to work longer hours? I am sure that when other employees of DCC accepted their jobs they were accepting a salary, and that they did not expect it to go down. Why can’t DCC do what other councils have done, and change our terms and conditions but leave our salary alone.

I feel the council have selected a large group of mainly females as a route to making an easy monetary saving. I feel incredibly worried about this proposal and how it will affect me, my family, my colleagues and my school.

Emails from TAs 3 (A lifelong labour voter to Labour councillors)

I am writing regarding the pay consultation for Teaching Assistants in County Durham.

I am a HLTA who has worked in primary education for a considerable number of years and the plans to cut my pay so extremely will have a huge impact on my life and that of my children.

I took on this role because I was passionate about supporting children with SEN and found my job very rewarding to see the progress that children made while being supported by TA.  Many of which would not have been able to stay in mainstream schools without this support.

I am also a parent of a child with SEN and I for one are very grateful for the support and help that my colleagues give to my child, who at times can be very challenging.

I feel that the cuts that DCC are proposing to our wages will damage the development of all of these children who benefit from the support of TA’s as many of us will have no option but to leave the profession that we so dearly love.

I would like to point out that the details councillors are being given by DCC are not correct.  You are being told that we will not lose any of our weekly wage if we increase our hours from 32.5 to 37.  This is not the case if I agree to increase my hours to 37 I will lose £3,200 PA however if I do not want to increase my hours I will lose £5100PA.

DCC are stating that they wish to bring all TA’s in line with other staff on the same grade as ourselves but the staff that we are being equated to signed their contracts knowing their rate of pay and hours to be worked. We signed our contracts in good faith, our mortgages are secured on them, many of us have nothing left to spare at the end of the month.

My point in this email is that I as one of your constituents voted labour at every election both local and national because I believed that the labour party cared about a fair deal for hard working, low paid workers if this goes ahead I will be 5p above the minimum wage.

I would like you to think about this when it comes to your next election, there are over 2700 TA’s in the Co Durham area who will be thinking very hard about who they vote for in the next elections.

I hope you will consider the points that I have raised.

Emails from TAs 4:

I am a teaching assistant currently working in a school in Durham. I have been both alarmed and disappointed at the proposals to reduce the wages of TA’s in our schools.

TA’s have a uniquely beneficial role for both teachers and pupils alike. We provide a high standard of teaching and support for classes, groups of children, and individuals.

I make many extra-contractual commitments. I plan, implement lessons, mark books, and assess children’s learning to cover PPA time.
I support trips, summer fairs, parents evenings, movie nights, and other events in school that require extra support. Much of my preparation is done at home, in my own time, without question.

I work well in excess of my contracted hours to ensure our pupils success and, in the past, I have achieved a great deal of satisfaction from doing so. Now, however, I am resentful that my extra contributions are unrecognised, unacknowledged and unrewarded.

Emails from TA’s 5:

Proposed variation to the Local Collective Agreement in relation to classroom based support employees and associated terms and conditions of employment.

I am writing to you as a Durham County Councillor to express my disgust at the revised proposals by Durham County Council to change my current contractual terms and conditions in relation to my role as a Teaching Assistant. The fact is, I was appointed on a set annual salary, paid on a 12 monthly period and working hours of 32.5 per week. How can this just be changed?

The County Council, in recognising the hard work and significant benefits that I as a Teaching Assistant brought to the education of young people in County Durham, agreed a remuneration package in 2004 that appreciated the vital role that I and my colleagues perform throughout the year with an unsurpassed passion and dedication.

However these proposals if implemented will see me lose £1602.24 per annum in pay and I would hope that you as my County Councillor, not shackled by the party line, would not support such a proposal that would reduce the income of a hard working constituent in such a way that would have a profound and devastating effect on me and my family’s future.

The role of a Teaching Assistant has changed enormously over the years. We definitely do more actual teaching, covering the class in the absence of the teacher, PPA and at short notice. We set up learning strategies such as Lexia. We train other staff in Autism etc etc.

I would appreciate a reply to this letter in explaining your position on this matter which I have to state will influence how, I, my family, my colleagues and friends may wish to vote in any forthcoming County Council Elections.

Emails from TAs 6:

I have been employed by Durham County Council as a Teaching Assistant at xxxxx Primary school in xxxxxx for 16 years. The Council’s proposed changes to the terms of my contract will result in a pay cut of £3079 which is 20% of my annual salary.

The Council are seeking to justify this on the grounds of a ‘significant’ risk of equal pay claims from other sections of the council workforce, despite not having received any claims of this nature and there being minimal equivalence of duties, roles or responsibilities with other Council workers.

Along with my colleagues, my contribution to the success of our school has been recognised and is appreciated by children, parents, teachers and governors alike so the Council’s proposal has come like a slap in the face to all of us.

But, more than that, I am worried that our children’s education and possibly their safety will be adversely affected if the Council’s proposals are implemented.  Teaching assistants are already demoralised by the scale of the proposed cuts and some will be forced to seek alternative employment. Teachers, already in short supply, will find their work load increased and children will miss the one on one attention they are getting. Many of us live within a few minutes’ walk of the school and make ourselves available at times to suit the teaching staff, arriving early and leaving late as required. Some are first aiders and administer medication to children.  All have excellent relationships with parents and are often their first point of contact with the school regarding any problems their children may be having. All participate and interact with parents and children outside school and  at community events in and around xxxxxxxx.

A pay cut on this scale, regardless of any compensatory payment or phasing in period, will make it impossible for me to manage our household expenses and maintain a quality of life which is acceptable to me and my family.

If the Council’s proposals are implemented,  I and others in my position will be forced to look for alternative employment.  I do not understand why the council would be  prepared to risk demoralising, alienating or losing its highly motivated, experienced and professional support staff with the attendant risks to school performance.

I think it’s time our Labour dominated Council showed  teachers  and parents  that it really  does care about  their  children’s education and withdraws  these proposals at  the earliest opportunity.


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