Proposals to implement changes to teaching assistant contracts will be considered by councillors in County Durham.

Members of Durham County Council will meet on Monday 16 May to discuss proposed arrangements for introducing changes to the employment terms and conditions of approximately 2,700 school staff.

The proposals have been developed following strong independent legal advice confirming that the current arrangements leave the council at risk of equal pay challenges that would result in significant financial cost to the council.

A report to full council strongly advises councillors of the risks of not making the proposed changes and of the council’s duties in relation to financial probity and care of public funds.

The report explains that currently, most teaching assistants are paid for working 37 hours a week, although are only required to work 32.5 hours a week. In addition, teaching assistants are paid for 52 weeks a year although they work only during school term time.

In addition it highlights that variations in contracts also exist within the teaching assistant group, where some hours and annual leave arrangements are different on a localised level in some schools.

Cllr Jane Brown, Cabinet member for corporate services at Durham County Council, said: “These proposals are aimed at ensuring fairness and parity across our workforce. They are about ensuring that teaching assistants, like all other council employees, are paid only for the hours they actually work.

“The current contract arrangements for teaching assistants represent a significant equal pay claim risk to the council and we have an obligation to address this in order to protect public finances.

“Despite every effort to reach a collective agreement on this matter with staff and trade unions it has unfortunately not been possible to achieve this to date.

“The external legal advice and the advice that we have from our statutory officers is clear and, while this is not a position we would wish to be in, we must now consider introducing these changes by ending existing contracts and replacing them with the amended ones.”

Councillors are recommended to agree to the proposal for the termination and re-engagement of teaching assistants on revised terms and conditions.

Should they agree, the process would begin on Monday 23 May and would involve formal consultation with teaching assistants and trade unions.

Staff would be given notice of the intention to terminate their existing contracts and would be offered a new contract based on the revised terms and conditions.

Under the proposals the new contracts would be brought in from January 2017 and teaching assistants affected would receive a compensatory payment equivalent to one year’s loss of salary.

Full council will meet to discuss the proposals on Monday 16 May at 10am at County Hall.