Heads' leader pushes for retirement age deal

25th November 2011 at 00:00
NAHT goes it alone with proposal to ward off strike

The prospect of headteachers taking to the picket line for the first time garnered scores of headlines for the NAHT earlier this month, after its members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the first strike in its 114- year history.

But while many have been quick to criticise the new-found militancy of the English headteacher union over the planned shake-up of public-sector pensions, behind the scenes general secretary Russell Hobby is pushing a new approach that he hopes will lead to a resolution.

TES has learnt that Mr Hobby has put forward a "creative" proposal for personalised pensions, which would allow teachers to decide to retire earlier and pay more into their pension fund, or work longer in order to keep their monthly contributions down. The plans were discussed by union leaders at a meeting this month.

The NAHT, along with the other teaching unions, is adamant that plans to increase the retirement age to 68 - while making teachers increase their contributions and receive a lower pension - are unacceptable. But since ministers put an improved offer on the table earlier this month, a renewed sense of optimism has spread through the unions that a deal could be reached by the end of the year - the deadline set by the Treasury.

Mr Hobby welcomed the "strong" 75.8 per cent vote for strike action by his members, describing their mood as "confident and bullish". He said the Department for Education had given a "positive" initial reaction to his proposals for flexible pensions.

"The fundamental value of the pension scheme should be kept as it is, but, if there are changes, this will help mitigate them; (teachers) can readjust to suit their needs," he said. "Whatever amount we have in the scheme could be deployed in a much more flexible fashion. Within that context, we all have very different needs, priorities, expenditure, lifestyles and families."

While admitting the decision would be a "trade-off" between retirement age, the size of teachers' contributions and the amount left in their pension pot, Mr Hobby called on the DfE to "treat people as adults and let them make choices".

A DfE spokesman confirmed that Mr Hobby's plans were being discussed by officials: "We're still in serious, ongoing discussions to reach a fair and affordable settlement - for both workers and the taxpayer."

Other teaching unions have their doubts about the plans. "If you have a family, you might change your mind two or three times. It's tough to say whether people will be opting in or opting out. This sort of thing is marginal to the scheme. Personally, I'm not keen on a menu of options," said Martin Freedman, ATL's head of pay, conditions and pensions.

"While there is some scope for flexibility, at this stage it's clear the cost ceiling the Government has set isn't high enough for us to reach a settlement. There has to be more money put in," said NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney.

Comment, page 35


Of the 13,101 votes cast:

Yes - 75.8%

No - 24.2%

Ballot turnout by union:

NAHT - 53.6%

NUT - 40%

ATL - 35%

NASUWT - 40%.

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