Exclusive: Private school teacher pension strike threat

Warning comes with plans from scores of independent schools expected to leave thousands of teachers with poorer pensions

TPS scheme

At least 100 private schools are planning leave the Teachers' Pension Scheme, Tes can reveal, leading to threats of strikes and a "robust" union challenge.

The NEU teaching union says there is widespread concern among independent school teachers who fear being placed on to a less favourable pension scheme. 

It's estimated that around 5,000 teachers, mostly in smaller independent schools, could be removed from the TPS by their schools trying to save money due to employer contribution costs, which have risen by 43 per cent from September.

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The costs, together with teacher pay rises, have already caused the closure and mergers of some independent schools. Unlike state schools they will not get any support from the government to cover the rises.

John Richardson, of the NEU teaching union, said the union represented around 40 per cent of the teachers affected, and that leaving the scheme would be a “massive, massive detriment” to members, who would be placed on less favourable pension schemes.

He said: “There have been quite a few schools where there have been threats of balloting [for strike action] or indicative ballots.

“The guidance we give is to robustly challenge, whatever the weather, but in some cases teachers in smaller schools will have to take it on the chin and realise their school has no alternative.

“There will be many schools who can afford the increase [in teachers’ pension contributions] without batting an eyelid. It will be water off a duck’s back. But there are plenty of other smaller schools that are not rich by any stretch of the imagination.

“But schools also need to be careful about the damage they can do to their ability to attract quality teachers, and that could put the school on a very slippery slope.”

A freedom of information request carried out by the NEU in November 2019 revealed there were 1,171 independent schools currently in the TPS (out of around 2,600).

And a further FOI request revealed that 97 had “notified the DfE they were planning to leave”.  The union says it has since learned of five more planning to leave – which means 9 per cent of all private schools in the scheme could be on their way out.

Mr Richardson said he estimated this would affect around 5,000 teachers.

In June 2019, staff at St Edward’s School, Oxford, went on a two-day strike in protest about the school’s decision to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. And a strike by staff at Westholme School in Blackburn was last month called off at the 11th hour, Tes understands.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Independent schools have the option to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and some schools have exercised that option. However, we would encourage independent schools to remain in the scheme so teachers can continue to move between the public and private sector.

“We are in discussions with independent schools to explore options that could allow those schools to keep as many of their teachers as possible in the scheme. The DfE will continue to engage with key stakeholders, including member and employer representatives.”

Independent Schools Council chief executive Julie Robinson said the first preference for independent schools would be to remain in the TPS "where possible and if affordable".

She said: “Independent schools are committed to supporting their dedicated teaching staff, and this includes ensuring high quality pension provision.

“However, the changes to the scheme mean that schools are having to cope with significant cost increases. Like all responsible employers when faced with such increases, school leaders and governing bodies of schools in membership of ISC associations must consider the various options available to them based upon their individual circumstances.

“In our response to the government’s consultation, the ISC – supported by the ISBA [Independent Schools' Bursars Association] and our other member associations – suggested a "mixed economy" proposal to help mitigate against the financial impact by giving schools another option other than being "all in" or "all out" of the TPS.

"The Department for Education is considering this proposal in further detail as a way to support teacher recruitment and retention.”

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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