Teachers to vote on strike at 23 schools over pensions

NEU members at the Girls' Day School Trust balloted on national walkout over withdrawal from the Teachers' Pension Scheme

Catherine Lough

Teachers balloted on strike at 25 schools over teacher pensions

A vote on strike action is planned today over private schools' proposed withdrawal from the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

The walkout proposal, coordinated by the NEU teaching union, is the first-ever national ballot in the 149-year history of the Girls' Day School Trust, which comprises 23 single-sex private schools and two academies.

The GDST announced its 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.

State schools are covered for the increase but independent schools are not, and some schools have either withdrawn from the scheme or considering a withdrawal in order to cut costs.

Background: 23 private schools set to leave Teacher Pension Scheme

Exclusive: Teachers' Pension Scheme exodus escalates

Backlash: 'Angry and worried' teachers on strike over pensions

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

The NEU said that the proposed withdrawal by the GDST could leave its schools with a "talent drain" as staff sought jobs elsewhere.

Teachers have also been concerned by the GDST's proposal to introduce what critics have referred to as a "fire and rehire" policy to enforce the TPS changes.

Proposal for strike action over teachers' pensions

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said:  "The proposal by the Girls' Day School Trust to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) is an unnecessary decision.   

"There is no imperative reason to leave the scheme. The trust's finances are healthy, as can be seen in their public accounts. No evidence to the contrary has been provided to staff or their recognised union, the NEU. 

"To add insult to injury, at the very start of the consultation the employer served legal notice of their intention to 'fire and rehire' teachers who do not accept the new pension proposals. 

"Our members are aggrieved that they worked so hard during the pandemic to maintain girls’ education, earning the gratitude of parents, and this is their reward.  

"We continue to engage with the employer and sincerely hope we can persuade the trust to withdraw their plan to remove our members' pension rights under the Teachers' Pension Scheme." 

Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of the GDST, said: “The GDST has begun consultation with our teachers and their recognised trade union, the NEU, across our 23 independent schools.

"Teachers have always been key to the success of the GDST family of schools and we recognise and value their incredible contribution and dedication to the education of the girls in our schools."

She added that the GDST had been "grappling" with the increased costs of the TPS scheme since 2019, when the employer contribution increased by 43 per cent.

"We are not alone in having to respond to the additional costs; 280 schools in the independent sector have already left the TPS, and many more are planning to leave or are already in consultation with their teachers," Ms Giovannoni said. 

"Our trustees are proposing an excellent alternative to the TPS, which we know is one of the best on offer in the sector, with a 20 per cent employer contribution into a flexible, defined contribution pension plan alongside other benefits."

Ms Giovannoni added that the GDST understood how difficult this was for teachers, and that the body would not have proposed leaving the TPS without a "viable alternative" for its teachers.

"We are committed to a full and robust consultation. In doing so, we are following due process as required by our recognition agreement with the NEU and according to legislation," she said.

"To ensure transparency, we have shared in detail our case for change and extensive consultation material with our teachers, as well as the NEU. 

"It is misleading for the NEU to claim the GDST is carrying out a ‘fire and rehire’ exercise. There is a legal process we must follow, which includes notifying the NEU in a section 188 letter of a potential contractual change.

"This by no means indicates a pre-determined outcome, but reflects our commitment to a meaningful and transparent consultation process.

"All the views and feedback of teachers and the NEU are being shared with GDST trustees, who will make the final decision on whether to move forward with the proposed GDST flexible pension plan at the end of the collective consultation process.”

The ballot will run from today to 6 December.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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