TEACHING assistants in County Durham are to be balloted on strike action next week despite a split between the two unions which represent them.

Union ballots in the long-running teaching assistants’ dispute in Durham produced a split result, with members of Unison voting to reject the proposed deal and GMB members voting to accept.

Unison, which represents just under 1,700 teaching assistants, said its members had voted overwhelmingly in favour to reject the terms and would now be balloted on strike action, while members of the GMB voted narrowly to accept the revised council offer.

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Durham County Council plans to change the contracts of 2,600 teaching assistants so they will be paid during term-time only, which unions say amounts to a pay cut of up to 23 per cent for some staff.

After talks at Acas, the authority made what it said was its “final offer” to extend the compensation period from one to two years.

However, a ballot of Unison members rejected the revised offer by 78 per cent to 22 per cent on a 72 per cent turnout.

Union leaders say they will now send strike ballots to classroom support workers early next week.

UNISON northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Teaching assistants are angry at the way the council has behaved, threatening to sack them if they don’t sign new contracts.

“These are dedicated and committed individuals who are already on low wages. Many can barely make ends meet as it is. “Striking is a last resort but these low-paid employees feel they have no choice but to consider taking action.

“Teaching assistants make a real difference in the classroom — teachers couldn’t teach without them and parents value them.

“It’s a pity the county council appears not to recognise their worth too.

“Unison is fully behind the teaching assistants, whatever course of action they choose to take.”

Members of the GMB have voted by 53.5 per cent to 46.5 per cent to accept the council's terms to settle the dispute, on a turnout of just under 75 per cent.

GMB Regional Organiser Michael Hopper said: “Our members have acted with great professionalism and fortitude during what has been a very stressful and difficult process.

"As an independent trade union our members involved in the dispute have spoken in a democratically held ballot. That is to accept the offer.

"The GMB is now tasked with going into urgent negotiations with Durham County Council and that is now what we will do.”

Durham County Council’s director of children’s services, Margaret Whellans, said: “We are really disappointed that Unison members have voted not to accept our revised compensation offer which their unions and mediation service Acas all recognised was the best deal possible.

“However, we now face a very complex set of circumstances, with GMB members voting to accept the deal and GMB requesting urgent discussions with the council about that.

“We also have several hundred teaching assistants who are not members of any union and therefore were unable to take part in the ballot.

“This has been a really long and difficult process and it should be recognised that all but one other council in the North-East and many nationally have already addressed this issue. We also have a legal and moral duty to deal with it.

“We value the work teaching assistants do with our county’s children and young people, and that is why we have tried to resolve the current inequality in a way that minimises the impact on affected staff and the education of young people in County Durham."