23 independent schools back strike action over exit from Teachers' Pension Scheme

Ballots from the National Education Union (NEU) have revealed “overwhelming opposition” to the Girls’ Day School Trust's (GDST) decision to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS), with 95 per cent of NEU teacher members voting in favour of strike action.

The ballots achieved a turnout of 84 per cent across the 23 independent schools in the trust, with potential dates for discontinuous strike action, which would be the first strike action in GDST's 149-year history, still to be decided.

NEU claimed that the proposal to exit the TPS would leave teachers at least 20 per cent worse off on average in terms of the annual amount they receive in pension payments.

It also pointed out that teachers have already seen a steady decline in their standard of living in recent years, as pay increased below inflation, including a pay freeze last academic year, warning that the exit from TPS would mean that their pay and remuneration was "significantly worse than local state schools".

The scheme previously launched a consultation with teachers and the NEU in November 2021 on the proposed exit from the TPS, with members to be instead given the option of joining a defined contribution scheme, with a 20 per cent employer contribution.

The trust said that the decision to begin a consultation was reached “reluctantly” after a 43 per cent increase in employer contributions to the TPS in 2019, which GDST has been “grappling" with since.

However, the union argued that the financial accounts for the trust show it to be in “good health”, with a "healthy annual cash surplus", suggesting that the TPS is therefore affordable.

The union also emphasised that the TPS pension is a contractual right for GDST teachers, alleging that the employer has suggested that a policy of ‘fire and rehire’ could be taken to drive the changes through.

NEU Joint General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, highlighted the results of the ballot action as "an exceptionally strong mandate", calling on the Council of the Girls' Day School Trust to withdraw the proposal to leave the TPS.

"The trust should reflect on just how a large body of committed and hard-working staff have reached this point. Members are resolved and rightly determined to defend their pensions," he said.

"We sincerely hope that strikes can be averted. We call on the GDST to withdraw the proposal to leave the TPS."

Commenting in response to the ballot results, GDST CEO, Cheryl Giovannoni, said: "The ballot result shows the strength of feeling we know exists amongst our teachers who are NEU members in respect of the proposed changes to teachers’ pensions.

"We are of course disappointed with the result, but our priority is to continue working closely with our schools to ensure our students are able to continue learning effectively during this time.

"Our collective consultation period with the NEU ends on Friday 28 January. The GDST Trustees will then consider all the feedback received from teachers before making a final decision in the last week of February. We urge the NEU not to call for strike action before any decisions are made, or any further proposals are put forward.

"The decision to begin collective consultation was reluctantly reached by the GDST Trustees following a 43 per cent increase in employer contributions to the TPS imposed by the government in 2019.

"Since this time, the GDST has been grappling with an increase in employer contributions from 16.48 per cent to 23.68 per cent of teachers’ salaries (an extra cost of £6m each year).

"The government has covered this rise in the maintained sector, including our two academies, but independent schools must deal with this additional burden on their own.

"As a result, over 280 independent schools have already left the TPS. Many more are planning to leave or are in consultation with their teachers about changes.

"Teachers are central to the success of the GDST and we value their incredible contribution and dedication to the education of girls in our family of schools.

"We have put forward these proposals in response to the challenges we face to control costs and are committed to providing our teachers with a strong alternative pension scheme, with a 20 per cent employer contribution into a flexible, defined contribution pension plan alongside other benefits.

"We would not have put forward these proposals unless we felt they were necessary to support the long-term sustainability of the GDST family of schools, enabling us to continue to provide an excellent and affordable education for girls in our schools and at the same time ensuring our teachers have a comfortable retirement."

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