Angry at plans to reduce their pension entitlements
Wimbledon High School. Picture: Google Streetview
February 14, 2022
Teachers at Wimbledon High School are taking unprecedented strike action in a dispute about their pensions.
Many of the teaching staff at the top independent girls’ school did not turn up for work this Thursday 10 February with 5 more days of industrial action planned.
The strike has been prompted by changes by made by Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) which runs 22 other schools across the country including Putney High and Notting Hill and Ealing.
95% of the teacher members of the National Education Union (NEU) employed by the Trust voted in favour of strike action with an 84% turnout. 1,500 NEU teachers are expected to take part in the first strike action in the Trust’s 149-year history. 71% of the Trust’s teaching staff are members of the NEU, as of December 2021.
The Trust is proposing to remove its teaching staff from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS). The NEU says that if this were to go ahead, teachers will be at least 20% worse off on average in terms of the annual amount they receive in pension payments.
The claim made by the Trust that the move is necessary because of its financial situation is disputed by the union which says the latest information in the public domain shows Trust finances to be in good health.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said, “The Girls’ Day School Trust has no justification in its plan to slash the pensions of its teaching staff. This will be a disaster for staff, for future recruitment and for pupils.
“Teachers always take strike action with a heavy heart, which is why this extraordinary mandate should give the Trust pause. Members are angry and determined to defend what is rightfully theirs. These are committed and hard-working staff who have been pushed to the point of taking action, the like of which the Girls’ Day School Trust has never seen. Teachers’ strength of feeling is unwavering.
“Be in no doubt that this is an attack on members’ terms and conditions of employment. The threat of ‘fire and rehire’ before so much as a word of consultation is all the evidence you need. It is also telling that the Trust has made no compelling argument to make this change to staff pensions. This is because they do not have one.
"Members will not be waiting for the Trust’s final decision in late February. That will be too late. Strike action on 10 February will send a clear message to parents and the wider public that the GDST is taking the wrong path. We call on the Council of the Girls' Day School Trust to unconditionally withdraw the proposal to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme now, not later. That is the surest way to settle this matter and avert strike action.”
Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, will speak at a rally in London at noon on 10 February in support of the teachers.
In a statement on its web site the Trust says, “Sadly, the increase to the TPS employer costs (Teachers’ Pension Scheme) has had a severe impact on our expenditure and has put us in a very difficult position. We have had to enter this very sensitive consultation process with our teachers because it is absolutely necessary for the long-term sustainability of all our schools.
“A 43% increase in employer contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) in 2019 has left the GDST – in fact, all independent schools in the UK – with a steep increase in employer contributions from 16.48% to 23.68% of teachers’ salaries (an extra cost of £6m each year). This increase funded the TPS scheme, but did not result in increased benefit to teachers’ pensions.
“The government has covered this rise in the maintained sector but independent schools must deal with this additional burden on their own. In the region of 300 independent schools have left or are planning to leave the TPS.
“We need to invest in all schools across the GDST family – across staff, teaching resources and classrooms, without making fees unaffordable.
“Our teachers and staff are our most important asset, and this is reflected in the fact that 75% of our expenditure is on our people. Their passion and dedication are the driving force behind our students’ education. We have an outstanding professional development programme and are committed to remaining an outstanding place to work.”
The Trust disputes the union’s claim that it hasn’t properly consulted saying it has “undertaken a detailed and transparent” process. It adds that it has implemented fee reductions and fee freezes during the pandemic and did not want to implement the changes during the pandemic because of the unprecedented pressures on staff but is being forced to do so now.
The teachers are being offered an alternative pension scheme, with a 20% employer contribution into a defined contribution pension plan alongside other benefits. The Trust claims that leaving the TPS would allow it to increase the pay of teachers and support staff.
The schools are planning to lay on ‘meaningful educational activities’ during the strike days with safeguarding and wellbeing considerations paramount. The Trust says they will be aiming to make up for lost teaching time.
The subsequent five days of action planned are:
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