TPS strikes: independent sector responds to union threat

ISA chief executive officer Neil Roskilly said private schools are 'absolutely right' to withdraw or risk hiking fees

The decision made by nearly 100 small independent schools to quit the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) later this year has been described as “absolutely right” by the chief executive of the Independent Schools Association (ISA), despite a union threat to lead nationwide strikes.

Speaking to Independent Education Today, Neil Roskilly said: “It’s absolutely right for schools to withdraw, otherwise they would have no choice but to pass the increased contribution on to parents with excessive fee increases. Smaller schools would be particularly hard hit.”

It’s absolutely right for schools to withdraw, otherwise they would have no choice but to pass the increased contribution on to parents with excessive fee increases
– Neil Roskilly, ISA

Contributions to the pension scheme have increased from 16.5% to 23.6% after the Treasury changed the rate at which liabilities for public sector pension schemes are calculated.

‘There is an element to this threat which is just a union being a union’

Roskilly said schools had to balance a “duty to staff” with a duty to their institutional financial future and the recruitment of new students.

“I’d be very surprised to see strikes,” Roskilly added. “There is an element to this threat which is just a union being a union”.

John Richardson, national officer of the NEU teaching union, told TES that the union represented around 40% of the teachers affected, and that leaving the scheme would force many on to less favourable pension schemes.

A freedom of information request revealed that 97 independent schools had notified the Department for Education that they were planning to leave the scheme. It is now estimated that 9% of independent schools could exit the pension scheme in the forthcoming financial year.

Richardson said: “There have been quite a few schools where there have been threats of balloting [for strike action] or indicative ballots.

“The guidance we give is to robustly challenge, whatever the weather, but in some cases teachers in smaller schools will have to take it on the chin and realise their school has no alternative.

“There will be many schools who can afford the increase [in teachers’ pension contributions] without batting an eyelid. It will be water off a duck’s back. But there are plenty of other smaller schools that are not rich by any stretch of the imagination.

“But schools also need to be careful about the damage they can do to their ability to attract quality teachers, and that could put the school on a very slippery slope.”

Roskilly said many schools will still offer attractive pension packages and there was still some risk of fee increases across the sector in the next academic year.

“The vast majority of schools that are withdrawing from TPS do not recognise the NEU, and they do not have collective bargaining on this front. Unions are a vital part of the equation, though, and we would urge schools that do recognise NEU to engage with them constructively,” Roskilly continued.

‘A lot of heads are concerned about the impact on recruitment’

These increases would have cost the school an additional £160,000 a year. So, the cost could have come from reducing teaching staff, our facilities and our curriculum
– Ben Evans, Edge Grove School

Currently, state and private schools all contribute to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, which makes it easy for teachers to move between the two sectors. It remains a statutory requirement for state schools to be in TPS, but the same does not apply to private schools. Despite the announcement, the majority of private schools will remain inside TPS.

Edge Grove School in Hertfordshire is one of the schools committed to exiting TPS in September. Headmaster Ben Evans told Independent Education Today that leaving the scheme was right because further increases in pension contributions are almost inevitable.

“A lot of heads are concerned about the impact on recruitment. And that will concern me because, ultimately, I’m sure there will be an impact on recruitment to start with. I think those wanting to go into the independent sector may be put off if there is no TPS. In the past, we have recruited some of our best teachers from the maintained sector and, naturally, it may be that pensions become an important consideration and it might put them off knowing we are coming out.

“We have still been able to recruit very good teachers, though, so that’s reassuring for me. In general, it is getting harder and harder to attract teachers anyway, because so many are leaving the profession, and I worry if this will exacerbate that. At the moment, we have not seen it yet.

“These increases would have cost the school an additional £160,000 a year. So, the cost could have come from reducing teaching staff, our facilities and our curriculum. We have just invested £3.8bn in a new building and we continue to invest in our curriculum; we have just introduced engineering on to the curriculum, so that requires considerable investment. We have just put in a new welding centre. So really, if we were to stay in TPS, then our ability to reinvest would have been impacted.”

Future solutions

A DfE spokesperson said: “Independent schools have the option to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and some schools have exercised that option. However, we would encourage independent schools to remain in the scheme so teachers can continue to move between the public and private sector.

“We are in discussions with independent schools to explore options that could allow those schools to keep as many of their teachers as possible in the scheme. The DfE will continue to engage with key stakeholders, including member and employer representatives.”

Said Independent Schools Council chief executive Julie Robinson: “Independent schools are committed to supporting their dedicated teaching staff, and this includes ensuring high quality pension provision.

“In our response to the government’s consultation, the ISC – supported by the ISBA [Independent Schools’ Bursars Association] and our other member associations – suggested a “mixed economy” proposal to help mitigate against the financial impact by giving schools another option other than being ‘all in’ or ‘all out’ of the TPS.

“The Department for Education is considering this proposal in further detail as a way to support teacher recruitment and retention.”


Have a view on this story? Get in touch at james.higgins@wildfirecomms.co.uk

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29 April 2PM [GMT]