Teachers to strike over private school pension withdrawal

Teachers will go on strike at a private school on Friday in what has been described as a “test case” for other institutions looking to withdraw from the teacher pension scheme.

More than 80 teachers were balloted with the majority set to strike at St Edward’s School, in Oxford. The school plans to exit the teacher pension scheme next year.

Schools Week reported in April that at least ten private schools were in talks with unions over plans to withdraw from the scheme, with one major chain already set to move staff out.

Employer contributions to the pension scheme are set to rise by more than 40 per cent this September. The government has committed to funding the increase for state schools, but not private schools.

Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), said: “This is a bit of a test case.

“Nobody wants to leave the TPS – this is a last resort and schools are reluctant. There’s been no time to plan for this rise, it’s costing schools hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Pensions are a critical part of a teacher’s total reward package and our members are understandably angry

He said two or three of the group’s schools are looking to withdraw.

A spokesperson for St Edward’s said the rises were a “huge extra financial burden which cannot simply be absorbed without it having a severe inflationary impact on the fees parents pay”.

It consulted on the plans, and pushed back its move to pull out of the scheme by 12 months to September 2020.

The school is moving towards a defined contribution scheme that matches the current TPS funding model, and will buy sickness and death in service insurance for its teachers as well.

The new scheme, managed by Aviva, was chosen by the school after consultation with actuaries commissioned by the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA) to create a defined contribution scheme for the sector.

The Financial Times reported in February that private firms are eyeing up the potential new market.

TPT Retirement Solutions launched the new Pension Scheme for the Education Sector in March to give “employers and members the flexibility to meet their needs”.

But other private schools are taking the hit. The private schools group Cognita has committed to keeping its more than 30 UK schools in the teacher pension scheme, at a cost of nearly £3 million extra per year.

Stuart Rolland, Cognita’s CEO for Europe, said this was “critical” to “attracting and retaining the very best teachers”.

Chris Keates

Chris Keates (pictured), general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said St Edwards’ “inferior scheme” doesn’t provide teachers with the “same benefits and securities in retirement”.

“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.”

The government is considering allowing private schools a “phased withdrawal” from the TPS – meaning current teachers will be kept in the scheme, but it will be closed for new entrants.

Currently private schools have to have staff all in, or all out, of the TPS.