Norwich teachers consider strike over pension changes

Norwich High School for Girls, the only single-sex school left in Norfolk. Picture: Archant

Teachers at Norwich High School for Girls, part of the Girl's Day School Trust, will be balloted over strike action after proposed pension changes - Credit: ARCHANT } NORFOLK 2003.

Teachers at a Norwich independent high school will be balloted for strike action today (Monday, November 23).

The National Education Union (NEU) is balloting members at the Girl's Day School Trust (GDST), which runs Norwich High School for Girls, over its plans to withdraw from the Teacher's Pension Scheme (TPS). 

This is the first time the GDST has had a national ballot on strike action in its 149-year history.

According to the NEU, the proposals would leave GDST teachers significantly worse off in retirement than local state schools.

The NEU has warned this could cause a "talent drain" as teachers and leaders are forced to leave to protect their pensions. 

The GDST began a consultation on the withdrawal from TPS in September but has not provided any evidence to their claim that the scheme is unaffordable. The trust has also threatened to "fire and rehire" staff in order to enforce the contractual change.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "The proposal by the Girls' Day School Trust to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme is an unnecessary decision.

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"There is no imperative reason to leave the scheme. The trust's finances are healthy as can be seen in their public accounts. No evidence to the contrary has been provided to staff or their recognised union, the NEU.

"To add insult to injury, at the very start of the consultation the employer served legal notice of their intention to 'fire and rehire' teachers who do not accept the new pension proposals.

"Our members are aggrieved that they worked so hard during the pandemic to maintain girls’ education, earning the gratitude of parents, and this is their reward."

Paul McLaughlin, NEU regional secretary, said: “Members at Norwich High School for Girls are very concerned about these unnecessary proposals which would leave them significantly worse off.

"It is to be hoped that the employer takes note to avoid an escalation of the dispute. Members are determined to take all necessary steps to protect their pensions.”

In response to the NEU, the GDST chief executive officer Cheryl Giovannoni said: “The GDST has begun consultation with our teachers and their recognised trade union, the NEU, across our 23 independent schools.

"Teachers have always been key to the success of the GDST family of schools and we recognise and value their incredible contribution and dedication to the education of the girls in our schools. 

"The GDST has been grappling with the increased cost of the TPS scheme since 2019, when the employer contribution increased from 16.48pc to 23.68pc, which represents a 43pc increase.  

"This uplift has been covered by the government in the maintained sector, including for our two academies.  

"We are not alone in having to respond to the additional costs; 280 schools in the independent sector have already left the TPS, and many more are planning to leave or are already in consultation with their teachers."

The GDST has proposed an alternative pension scheme to the TPS, with a 20pc employer contribution into a "flexible, defined contribution pension plan" alongside other benefits.

 Ms Giovannoni added: "We understand how difficult this is for our teachers and are doing all we can to support them through this collective consultation process, which runs until the end of January 2022.

"We would not have proposed to leave the TPS unless we felt we had a viable alternative for our teachers, one which gives them a comfortable retirement and flexibility around their total remuneration package."

The GDST has rebuked claims by the NEU that the trust planned to "fire and rehire" staff, saying this is misleading and that they are following legal processes in regard to potential contractual changes.

The Trust has said all views and feedback of teachers and the NEU will be shared with GDST trustees, who will make the final decision as to whether to move forward with plans.

The ballot runs until December 6. 

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