School pension row 'could trigger more teacher strikes'

Exclusive: If employer contribution were to rise again, it would be 'untenable' for independent schools, warns leader

Matilda Martin

money in jar

The Girls' Schools Association (GSA) president today warned that further increasing employer contributions would be “untenable” for independent schools.

Tes spoke with GSA president Samantha Price, who is also head at Benenden School in Kent, about the ongoing strikes over withdrawals from the Teacher Pension Scheme (TPS).

Earlier this week, Tes reported NEU members at the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) were balloting on strike action over the trust's withdrawal from TPS.

Ms Price suggested that if the strikes went ahead, it could prompt teachers in other schools to follow suit.

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"It might trigger other independent school staffers to strike," she said.

However, she said that other independent schools "probably do have a closer relationship with their governing bodies generally".

"So I think there is probably more opportunity for that to be headed off as long as boards of governors manage either phased withdrawal in a really careful way," she added.

The Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) revealed plans to withdraw from the TPS in September following the government's decision to raise the rate of employers’ contributions by 43 per cent in 2019.

Ms Price also warned that the problem with striking was that it “takes teachers away from the classroom”, thereby creating an “impact on students".

Yesterday, it was revealed that teachers would vote on a strike at 23 schools over teacher pensions, following the proposed withdrawal.

Ms Price said: “If the employer contribution is to go up again, it’s just untenable for schools to be able to, I think, A, afford that level of contribution and B, as charities to be able to justify it.”

She also emphasised that in fee-paying schools it would prompt a response from parents, and she was unsure how the GDST would respond to that.

She added that it would be “very interesting to see where the negotiations get to between now and 6 December".

“Hopefully they will be able to head off the strikes.”

Ms Price warned that “really effective, ongoing communication between our employers and employees about what the alternative direct contribution schemes will look like is imperative".

Tes asked Ms Price if the strikes could exacerbate the gap between independent and state schools, she said that it could “potentially cause some challenges in terms of recruitment into the independent sector".

In April, the NEU annual conference heard how 147 independent schools across the country had left the TPS since 1 September last year.

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Matilda Martin

Find me on Twitter @Matilda__martin

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