The stream of independent schools exiting the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) shows no sign of slowing, after a freedom of information (FOI) request revealed another 27 schools have quit the plan since September 2019.
Contributions to the TPS increased from 16.5% to 23.6% in September 2018 after the Treasury changed the rate at which liabilities for public sector pension schemes are calculated.
The Treasury has agreed to cover the extra cost of TPS for schools in the state sector, but some small independent schools have struggled to meet the increasingly heavy financial burden of pension contributions, forcing many to quit the scheme altogether.
A total of 107 schools have notified the Department for Education (DfE) of their intention to withdraw from the TPS since September 2018, the FOI request by Wesleyan has revealed.
That figure has risen by 27 since the beginning of the 2019/20 academic year, representing a 34% increase in just six months.
In response to a National Education Union FOI, the Department of Education confirmed there were 1,171 independent schools in England and Wales in the TPS as of 31 March 2019. The number of independent schools quitting the scheme is now nearing 10% of the total.
Strike action: where are we now?
Strike action was averted recently at The Grange School in Hartford, Cheshire, after governors agreed to drop plans to exit the TPS.
In a letter to parents last month, chair of governors Karen Williams said: “The cost of teachers’ pensions is one of a number of significant financial risks facing The Grange and other independent schools, which we must address collectively as a whole community.
“Maintaining the current level of employer contributions means that we need to reconsider how to afford the additional costs of £340,000 per year that this entails.”
Strike action was also averted at Westholme School in Blackburn, Lancashire after an agreement was reached.
The main difficulty is that the employer contribution is funded by the taxpayer in state sector schools whereas in independent schools it comes straight out of the fees that you pay
– Richard Russell, Colfe’s School
Attention has since turned to Colfe’s School, Greenwich, where teachers voted to go on strike over proposals to take the school out of the TPS. Staff took to the picket lines yesterday.
In a letter to parents, headmaster Richard Russell said: “I don’t think it is controversial to predict that the TPS will become unaffordable for the majority of independent schools.
“More than 100 independents have already left the scheme and many more are going through a period of consultation, as Colfe’s continues to do. The main difficulty is that the employer contribution is funded by the taxpayer in state sector schools whereas in independent schools it comes straight out of the fees that you pay.”
Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: “It really is a momentous occasion when independent school staff take strike action, and it is testament to the severity of the issue.
“Our hard-working members are committed to the success of their pupils and their school. When they feel that they have no alternative but to strike, it should serve as a wake-up call for independent sector employers.
“NEU members desperately wish to resolve the matter amicably but believe that leaving the TPS would be a significant blow in the school’s ability to attract and retain quality teaching staff. For many NEU members working in the independent sector, leaving the TPS is a deal-breaker.”
When they feel that they have no alternative but to strike, it should serve as a wake-up call for independent sector employers
– Kevin Courtney, NEU
In June 2019, staff at St Edward’s School, Oxford, went on a two-day strike in protest over the decision to withdraw from the TPS.
‘For some, the numbers simply don’t add up’
Parminder Gill at Wesleyan, a specialist financial services mutual for teachers, said: “The news that 107 independent schools have opted to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme is a concerning statistic.
“Independent schools are having to look more closely at their budgets, and examine options like increasing fees, to establish if they can afford to maintain their membership of the TPS. For some, the numbers simply don’t add up.
“When the 40% increase in contributions took effect in September last year, some independent schools adopted a wait and see approach, but now many are deciding to walk away from the scheme all together.
“We have seen an increase in demand from schools who want to give their staff transparency about the situation. If an independent school withdraws from the TPS, it is essential that teachers understand what this means for them and their long-term retirement plans.
“While retirement may feel like a long way off for some, it is worth noting that very few schemes will be as generous as the TPS because it is guaranteed retirement income, directly linked to a teacher’s salary and service with clear employer and employee contributions outlined.
“Contributions and retirement income of alternative schemes that many teachers will be exploring are less certain and can add more complexities to retirement planning.”
It is worth noting that very few schemes will be as generous as the TPS because it is guaranteed retirement income, directly linked to a teacher’s salary and service
– Parminder Gill, Wesleyan
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The 107 independent schools withdrawing from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme are:
Abercorn School, Westminster
Aldro School, Surrey
Arnold Lodge School, Warwickshire
Ashdown House School, East Sussex
Avenue House School, Ealing
Barfield School, Surrey
Beaudesert Park School, Gloucestershire
Birchfield School, Shropshire
Boundary Oak School, Hampshire
British School in the Netherlands
Brooke Priory School, Rutland
Bruern Abbey School, Oxfordshire
Castle Court Preparatory School, Dorset
Castle House School, Telford and Wrekin
Cheam School, Hampshire
Chepstow House School, Kensington and Chelsea
Claires Court Schools, Windsor and Maidenhead
Copthorne Preparatory School, Surrey
Cothill House, Oxfordshire
Cricklade Manor Prep School, Wiltshire
Croft Preparatory School, Warwickshire
Derby Grammar School, Derby
Dolphin School, Wokingham
Dover College, Kent
Dulwich Prep Cranbrook, Kent
Ealing Independent College, Ealing
Edenhurst Preparatory School, Staffordshire
Edge Grove School, Hertfordshire
Elmhurst School, Croydon
Eurocentres, Lee Green
Eurocentres, London Victoria
Exeter Cathedral School, Devon
Falcons Pre Preparatory School for Boys, Hounslow
Falcons Preparatory School for Boys, Richmond upon Thames
Falcons School for Girls, Wandsworth
Farlington School, West Sussex
Great Ballard School, Wes Sussex
Greenbank Preparatory School, Stockport
Hanford School, Dorset
Hatherop Castle School, Gloucestershire
Heathfield Knoll, Worcestershire
Heywood Prep, Wiltshire
Highfield and Brookham Schools, West Sussex
Hilden Grange School, Kent
Holme Grange School, Wokingham
Holmwood House School, Essex
Horris Hill School, Hampshire
International School of London, Surrey
Kitebrook Preparatory School, Oxfordshire
Lockers Park School, Hertfordshire
Longridge Towers School, Northumberland
Luckley House School, Wokingham
Marymount International School, Kingston upon Thames
The Mead School, Kent
Mowden Hall School, Northumberland
Oswestry School, Shropshire
Park School, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council
Pembridge Hall School, Kensington and Chelsea
Plumtree School, Nottinghamshire
Plymouth College, Plymouth
Portland Place School, Westminster
Princes Mead School, Hampshire
Redhill High School, Pembrokeshire
Rookwood School, Hampshire
Rupert House School, Oxfordshire
Rydes Hill Preparatory School, Surrey
Salisbury Cathedral School, Wiltshire
Sandroyd School, Wiltshire
Scarborough College, North Yorkshire
Sherborne House School, Hampshire
Sherfield School, Hampshire
Sinclair House School, Hammersmith and Fulham
Skippers Hill Manor School, East Sussex
Spring Grove School 2003 Ltd, Kent
St Anthony’s Preparatory School, Camden
St Anthony’s School for Girls, Barnet
St Christophers School, Devon
St David’s Prep, Bromley
St Edward’s Prep, Reading
St Edward’s School, Oxfordshire
St Faith’s At Ash School Limited, Kent
St Margaret’s School, Camden
St Peter’s School (Sunnylands Ltd), Northamptonshire
Steephill School, Kent
Stoke College, Suffolk
Sunningdale School, Windsor and Maidenhead
Firs School, Cheshire West and Chester
Gesher Primary Special School, Brent
The Hampshire School, Chelsea, Kensington and Chelsea
The Webber Independent School, Milton Keynes
Thetford Grammar School, Norfolk
Twyford School, Hampshire
Wandsworth Preparatory School, Wandsworth
Waverley School, Wokingham
West Hill Park School, Hampshire
Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire
Westville House School, Bradford
Wetherby Kensington, Kensington and Chelsea
Wetherby Preparatory School, Westminster
Wetherby School, Kensington and Chelsea
Wetherby Senior School, Westminster
White Trees Independent School, Essex
Witham Hall School, Lincolnshire
Wychwood School, Oxfordshire