A ROW over County Durham teaching assistant contracts could be close to a resolution after more than 18 months of negotiations.

That was the message hinted at by Durham County Council’s CEO, Terry Collins, who offered reassurances to a group of teaching assistants at a Barnard Castle Town Full Council meeting on Monday night.

Teaching assistant, Catherine Bonnett, spoke on behalf of about ten of her colleagues when she addressed Mr Collins.

She said a rise in the town’s birth rates and new housing plans would see an increase of at least 100 primary school children but the council’s proposals to change contracts was “set on a course of action that deliberately de-values and demotivates this highly skilled, experience, trained and qualified group of para professionals”.

She said since the proposals, many teaching assistants had been forced to move to better paid jobs in neighbouring authorities or leave the profession altogether.

Quoting the Strategy for School Organisation and the Pattern and Provision of Schools across County Durham, she said: “Can you explain how you intend to ‘ensure that all schools are in a position to deliver high quality education that meets the needs of all children and their families’.

“How will this action by DCC improve the educational outcomes for Barnard Castle’s children?”

The council is currently undertaking a full review of the role and responsibilities of its 2,400 teaching assistants, which have sparked protests and strike action over plans to pay them during term-time only.

Talks between the council and unions Unison, Unite and GMB started again in December with Mr Collins saying “really positive” talks were ongoing.

“The work has been non-stop,” he said. “The bottom line on this is we are hopeful that we can make progress with this matter and that we can resolve this situation so there’s not a problem going forward.”

Mrs Bonnett said there was an anxiety that “this issue is being pushed into the long grass until after the elections in May”.

“I can give reassurances that the council wants this to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Mr Collins added. “There’s been incredible pace around this – there’s been no let-up.”