Dozens of teachers in independent schools have agreed to take a 10 per cent pay cut to keep their schools open. Staff at one senior and one prep school, both unidentified, said they would accept lower pay rather than see the schools close. The news highlights the financial difficulties faced by growing numbers of private schools.
Figures presented at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers showed that hundreds of independent school staff have been made redundant because of the recession. About 25 schools have closed, merged in the past year or are about to close, the conference was told. Some had shown poor financial management and lacked redundancy plans, said Malcolm St John Smith, chair of the union's independent schools committee.
"Far too many schools, including some well-known names, do not have even basic employment policies such as a redundancy procedure, which leaves little recourse to our members other than the lengthy and costly legal route," he said.
John Richardson, the union's national officer for independent schools, said the fact that teachers had agreed to pay cuts in two unnamed schools raised fears that terms and conditions were "under attack".
"Teachers may be willing to take pay cuts and make certain sacrifices, but you need to be confident that is going to work," he said.
High-profile schools were criticised this week for the amount of money they are willing to pay staff they are making redundant.
Roedean in Brighton announced in February that it would be taking over nearby St Mary's Hall School after it ran into financial difficulties. The two schools will merge on April 15. St Mary's juniors will be renamed Roedean Junior; St Mary's senior school will shut at the end of the summer term.
The ATL said five of its members faced compulsory redundancy and a further five had taken voluntary redundancy. The union criticised Roedean for paying the statutory minimum redundancy, as little as Pounds 350 for each year of service.
Mr Richardson said: "Independent school employers, certainly the well-known ones, ought to be setting a good example and paying more than the statutory minimum.
David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, accused the ATL of being "entirely misleading and unhelpful".
"To suggest that this is a crisis is absurd," he said. It contradicted findings by council associations and anecdotal evidence from schools.