More than eight out of 10 teachers and school leaders believe reducing the benefits offered by their pension schemes will mean more people leaving the profession, a study has found.
A survey of more than 2,600 school and college staff revealed a workforce very attached to its pensions, with nearly 70 per cent saying it is a "very important" part of their pay package.
Eight out of 10 leaders and more than seven in 10 teachers said their pension scheme was "important" to keeping them working in education.
The findings come as the Government announced plans to make teachers and other public sector workers pay on average 3 per cent more into their pension pots every year from April 2012, which would save the Government #163;1.8 billion a year. Other changes under discussion include replacing the hallowed "final salary scheme" in favour of a career average scheme.
The move to calculate pensions using the generally lower Consumer Price Index inflation measure, rather than the Retail Price Index, has already caused union outrage.
The changes over pensions, which have become one of the biggest pay-and-conditions hot potatoes since the Coalition came to power, are expected to be the deciding factor in whether there is combined union industrial action over the coming months and years.
Most participants in the survey said they opposed having to pay increased contributions, but a quarter of teachers said they agreed that public sector workers should start paying more for their pensions.
One teacher warned: "Having never taken any industrial action of any kind in 30 years of teaching, I feel strongly that losing pension rights from a scheme with a very poor return is an issue over which I would withdraw labour."
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned that the issue could form the basis of a rebellion among staff.
"Any attack on the pensions of those working in education is likely to inflame even the least militant staff," she said. "Members who have never been prepared to take action over any other issue are furious and talking about striking."