A UNION is seeking clarity over negotiations affecting thousands of County Durham teaching assistants as a long-running dispute over contracts enters a third academic year.

It had been hoped that the dispute between Durham County Council and its teaching assistants would be resolved ahead of the new year, which starts on Monday.

However, negotiations are still ongoing following a decision by the majority of the school workers who are members of the trade union Unison to reject the latest offer by the authority.

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Unison regional secretary Clare Williams said she hoped there would be more clarity on the situation in the next couple of weeks.

She said: “We are continuing to have conversations and negotiations in the hope of finding a resolution.

“Over the next few weeks we will get a bit of clarity around any future improvements to the offer and we will have a timeline on what will be happening.”

John Hewitt, the council’s director of resources, said: “Discussions are continuing with the recognised trade unions.”

In July, union members voted to reject a revised proposal by Durham County Council, which would see 78 per cent of teaching assistants receive a pay rise.

The deal would see them put on a 37-hour a week and 40-week per year contract, with pay linked to grade, hours and weeks worked.

It was agreed by councillors in June to allow the proposals to be put to teaching assistants before the end of the school year, in the hope new arrangements would be in place by September.

But it was rejected amid claims the deal was divisive and would have resulted in 22 per cent of the school workers getting a pay cut, with mainly level three teaching assistants affected.

This is now the third academic year the negotiations have been ongoing as the council first put forward proposals to alter contracts in 2015 following legal advice that it was at risk of equal pay claims.

Jan Clymo, from the County Durham Teaching Assistants Activists Committee, said: “At the minute we are still on the existing contracts and nothing has changed.

“We are hoping to go back and open negotiations.”

Last year saw members of Unison and ATL go on strike for four days in the lead up to Christmas, which led to a re-opening of negotiations in the new year.

Ms Clymo said: “We hope we don’t have to go out to strike again. We were so close to having it resolved.”

She added: “We are pleased teaching assistants are sticking together. There’s not anyone who has said ‘I’m a winner so I’m going to accept this’.”