NASUWT urges employer to rethink TPS changes as teachers announce strike action

The Teachers' Union, NASUWT, has urged Westholme School to withdraw its "unjustified" plans to discontinue paying into the Teachers' Pension Scheme to avoid further strike action from union members.

Earlier this week (8 September), teachers at the school in Blackburn took two days of strike action over plans by their employer to withdraw from the TPS, which NASUWT argued would leave members "significantly worse off in retirement".

According to the union, the proposals would also see the introduction of a new pay structure that would mean teachers are worse off than their colleagues at other local schools.

However, the school stated that it has been in negotiations with teaching staff and unions for 12 months after facing a "huge increase in costs" for members of the TPS when the government announced an "unprecedented rise" in employer contributions last September.

This saw employer contributions increase by more than 40 per cent last September, with the level of contribution required from schools increasing from 16.48 per cent to 23.68 per cent, representing an additional cost of £207,000 a year to the school.

Westholme School chairman of governors, Brian Marsden, emphasised that the school had offered a number of compromises and alternatives to staff over the past year, but that it "simply cannot afford the rise in pension costs".

He explained that if the school stays in the TPS, it will face an "uncertain future", with experts predicting "further significant hikes" to the level of employer contribution required.

Marsden continued: "The scheme is one we have no control over and future rises are inevitable.

"The huge financial burden simply cannot be absorbed by the school without it having a severe inflationary impact on the fees parents pay.”

One of the alternative options offered to staff is a "parallel option", which would allow staff members to stay in the TPS, with the school paying an employer contribution of 18 per cent, a 3 per cent increase, and the individual making up the "small remaining funding gap".

Alternatively, staff have also been offered the option of joining a defined contribution (DC) scheme, where members will have the flexibility to invest the 18 per cent how they choose.

Marsden highlighted that over 70 per cent of those in the TPS have already signed up to the new scheme, with all staff given until 14th September to confirm their intentions.

He added: “We are taking the challenging but necessary steps to ensure the future sustainability of Westholme School.

"After many months of deliberation and consultation, we believe we have offered our teachers a very fair compromise. Many other independent schools have taken a much harder line, withdrawing from the TPS altogether.

"Ultimately, however difficult it is, the board is duty bound to take the right decisions for the school as a whole.”

However, NASUWT stated that the school has “disgracefully” threatened teachers with dismissal if they fail to sign new contracts that would remove them from the TPS and instead accept an "inferior pension scheme".

NASUWT general secretary, Dr Patrick Roach, emphasised that the proposals would not provide teachers with the same benefits and securities in retirement offered through TPS, arguing that it is "not acceptable to threaten teachers in this way".

He stated: “Pensions are a critical part of a teacher’s total reward package and our members are understandably angry and worried about these unnecessary attacks on their pension.

“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.”

NASUWT national executive member for Blackburn, Clare Ward, added: “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. We are working hard to see all schools return to normality as soon as possible.

“All teachers are entitled to a decent pension and the NASUWT urges the employer to recognise the strength of feeling and rethink its plans.”

The school also noted that the increasing level of employer contributions required by the scheme has seen "most independent schools" make "difficult decisions" as to whether they should remain within the scheme.

Indeed, the number of independent schools opting out of TPS has increased over the past year, with almost 150 private schools notifying the Department of Education of their plans to leave the TPS since February last year.

Furthermore, a freedom of information request previously showed that the number of independent schools opting out of the scheme had increased by more than a third (34 per cent) in the six months prior to March 2020.

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