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Stuck on just pound;4,300 a year

Julia McLaren is at the bottom of the pay league. The assistant at Benton Park primary in Newcastle can expect to take home just pound;4,300 a year.

It is a frustrating life for the 52-year-old, who was a late starter in the profession.

After a career as a librarian and then full-time housewife, she trained as a teacher 10 years ago. Mrs McLaren found, though, that her age was against her, could not secure a full-time job and spent seven years in supply work.

But she was frustrated by the work so took up an assistant post three years ago. She now takes small groups of children for literacy, numeracy, and science booster classes.

But the school cannot afford to employ assistants full-time so she is limited to 15 hours a week, on pound;6.92 an hour. Newcastle Council only pays assistants on a 44-week year so, spread over the full 52 weeks, she is limited to a basic pound;4,300. Unison is threatening strikes over the policy.

Mrs McLaren said because she is on the books most of the year, it is impossible to sign on or get short-term work for weeks she is not at school.

"It is frustrating," she said. "I enjoy the work and when it makes a real difference it can be quite a thrill. I need more hours but the school can't afford it."

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