Hertfordshire teachers strike over school's TPS withdrawal

Teachers at St Christopher School in Letchworth Garden City have begun the first of six planned days of strike action over plans by their employer to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).

According to NASUWT, the union formed by the combining of the National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers, the proposals to withdraw from the TPS would leave teachers at the independent school with “substantially inferior pension entitlements which will not provide them with the same benefits and securities in retirement”.

Thursday marked the first day of the teachers’ strike, with further action expected on the 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29 April.

NASUWT general secretary, Dr Patrick Roach, said members were “understandably angry and worried about these unnecessary attacks on their pension”, adding that the school had “not provided any evidence to justify this decision and has placed teachers under substantial pressure to accept an inferior pension scheme being imposed on them”.

He continued: “NASUWT members are committed teachers who care about the pupils they teach. Taking strike action is a last resort but they have been left with no choice. The NASUWT urges the employer to withdraw the plans to avoid further strike action.”

NASUWT national executive member for Hertfordshire, Mike Metcalfe, commented: “These proposals are unjustified and will leave members significantly worse off in retirement. The NASUWT does not want to be taking strike action, or indeed any industrial action, at this time in particular.”

However, he stated that the employer’s “refusal” to address concerns had left teachers with “no other option”, before urging the school “to recognise the strength of feeling and rethink its plans”.

A statement from St Christopher School headteacher, Emma-Kate Henry, said: “We are deeply disappointed that, despite our utmost efforts, St Chris teaching staff who are members of the NASUWT union have decided to take industrial action.

"The dispute has arisen because, after an extensive and open year-long consultation process with teachers including the St Chris NASUWT union representative, the school’s governors decided to withdraw St Chris from the TPS in December 2020.”

She explained that, in September 2019, TPS had raised the employer contributions to teachers’ pensions by 40 per cent, from 16.48 per cent to 23.68 per cent, which meant that the school was dealing with a rise of over £221,000 for 2019/20.

Henry added that new pension scheme would offer teachers an employer contribution rate of 16.5 per cent, while also noting that the governors “did not want to take the decision to leave the TPS” and “fully understand the difficulties the decision has caused for some members of staff”.

She concluded: “We have been working tirelessly to find a solution to the dispute and will continue to have an open dialogue internally with our staff, as we have throughout the process. Our priority is the education of our pupils at what has been a highly disrupted time, and our main focus will continue to be on providing the best possible outcomes for them.”

The government is currently consulting on the phased withdrawal of independent schools from the TPS, though critics have argued that these measures have come too late for the approximately 200 independent schools to have left the scheme since the increased contributions were introduced in September 2019.

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