The National Education Union (NEU) has passed a motion on the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS), in response to what its leadership described as a “watershed moment” for pensions in the independent sector.
“The NEU is alarmed that a watershed moment in employee relations within the independent sector has been reached,” said Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU.
The union’s 2021 annual conference, held virtually, debated calls from members working in the independent sector for a national campaign “to protect teachers’ pensions in the sector”. Motion 33 was passed by members after several propositions – numbers 11 and 67 – were submitted calling for collective action on the decisions by more than 100 independent schools to quit the TPS.
The motion notes “that relatively few schools in the independent sector enjoy union recognition, and most do not benefit from the standard teachers’ pay and condition, which limits the hours and types of tasks that teachers can be asked to do”.
“Since the lockdown in March 2020, some heads and bursars have taken advantage of the disruption to drop out of the TPS without meaningful consultation – in some cases forcing members to agree to new terms and conditions at only a few days’ notice and without any opportunity for consultation with each other, their union reps or qualified professionals,” the motion continued.
The successful motion calls on the union to launch a campaign “to ensure that all teachers are members of the TPS unless they themselves choose not to be”.
The union has agreed to support union recognition within the independent sector and to contact any school threatening to leave TPS “to ensure there is appropriate consultation” with staff.
Some heads and bursars have taken advantage of the disruption to drop out of the TPS without meaningful consultation – NEU
The number of independent schools withdrawing from TPS almost doubled from April to September 2020, a freedom of information request revealed. The FOI request submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) by Wesleyan Financial Services confirmed that 98 independent schools in England withdrew from TPS since employer contributions rose by 40% in September 2019, with 64 of those having notified the DfE since the coronavirus outbreak in March.
The chief executive officer of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA) said TPS is a “here and now issue” for schools, even those that have been adopting a wait-and-see approach.
David Woodgate, who heads the national association representing bursars and business managers of independent schools, addressed school leaders at the Independent Schools Conference in November.
Woodgate said schools are now facing up to the “increased burden” of the TPS. The combined impact of the scheme and Covid-19 were “catalysts for change”, he said.
“This term we have been inundated with large schools, HMC schools, GSA schools, saying we have to now face up to the inevitability of consultation on whether to pull out of TPS,” said Woodgate.
We believe that all teachers should have the right to be in the scheme. The NEU will vigorously support our members’ defence of their right to the TPS – Kevin Courtney, NEU
Courtney from the NEU said the scheme is a “fundamental part of a teacher’s remuneration” and “integral to the profession”.
“We believe that all teachers should have the right to be in the scheme. The NEU will vigorously support our members’ defence of their right to the TPS,” he continued.
“Employers are resorting to the draconian practice of ‘fire and rehire’ as a default position in an attempt to steam-roller contractual change. The NEU believes that ‘fire and rehire’ has no place in modern Britain.
“Sadly, on many occasions, NEU members have been left with little option than to strike to protect their contractual rights. Striking is absolutely the last resort. It is not something that our members want to do. However, faced with such a fundamental cut to their remuneration, and often the threat of ‘fire and rehire’, many are prepared to do so.”
Courtney said NEU members had reached a successful outcome at the Mall School, Richmond, where the employer agreed to temporarily halt any discussion on leaving the TPS.
A strike at Wycliffe College and prep school in Gloucestershire reached a compromise between the school and NEU. Staff at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, are due to take strike action later this month.