HE MAY be out of favour with some of his own MPs but to hundreds of County Durham teaching assistants who attended the Big Meeting this weekend, Jeremy Corbyn was a hero. HELEN COLE reports

LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn's vow to support 2,700, workers who face being made redundant by Durham County Council at the end of this year before being re-employed with a pay cut of up to 23 per cent, was music to their ears.

It was the perfect end to a rousing day at the Durham Miners' Gala, which started with more than 500 men and women from across the county uniting to march for their cause.

Higher Teaching Assistant, Lisa Turnbull, said: “This is not a protest. We are not just a number, we are people and we are here to support each other.”

It was an emotional day as the group showed their passion for their jobs and respect each other. There was laughter and tears but mostly they were proud to stand together.

As the specially made yellow and blue Teaching Assistants flag was raised in the air, loud cheers broke out across the crowds.

The County Durham Teaching Assistants were here making history as the first group of school support staff to join the Gala in its 132 year history.

Durham County Council has already approved its plans to pay its teaching assistants term time only rather than year round.

It says it also pays them 37 hours a week when they only work 32 and a half.

The council has said that it also fears equal pay challenges from other members of its workforce and is attempting to achieve fairness and parity.

As the teaching assistants flooded Elvet Bridge a huge cheer erupted and National Union of Teachers (NUT) flags flew high and proud in an overwhelming show of support.

It was a poignant moment that caught in the throats of some but one woman managed to point at them shouting “Thank you teachers!” and the cheers got louder.

It wasn’t just teachers who backed the group, shadow education secretary Angela Raynor, stopped to have her picture taken with them and called for the government to plough more money into education.

Then followed Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Police Constabulary, who signed a petition against the County Council’s decision.

Both were cheered for their stance but it was Tim Roache who got the loudest cheer of all.

The general secretary of the GMB union stood on the balcony of the County Hotel and pointed straight at the huge crowd and kissed his badge in a display of unwavered support for the passionate campaigners.

He was then seen on his phone tweeting: “The brilliant Durham teaching assistants. #GMB stands with you in your fight for fairness.”

The support continued in the speeches with miners’ leader Dave Hopper and Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, pledging to stand by them.

As the day came to a close, County Durham’s Teaching Assistants could take comfort in the fact that their cause and been heard and they were not alone.