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Streatham private school teachers vote for strike action after pension payments are axed – South London News

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Teachers at a private school have voted overwhelmingly for strike action after their pension payments were withdrawn.

Staff at Streatham and Clapham Girls High and Prep Schools are preparing to walk out over the dispute.

They staged a picket outside the high school premises in Abbotsbury Road, Streatham, today, February 10 – and are planning five more.

Among those to join the protest was former pupil Bell Ribeiro-Addy – now MP for Streatham.

Members of the NEU at Streatham and Clapham Girls High and Streatham and Clapham Girls High Prep will go on strike to defend their pensions as part of nationally co-ordinated action across the Girls’ Day School Trust’s (GDST) 23 independent schools in England and Wales:

A single formal ballot, which closed last week, resulted in 95 per cent of teacher members at the 23 schools voting in favour of discontinuous strike action on a turnout of 84 per cent.

Strike action would be the first in the trust’s 149-year history. 

The GDST plans to remove its teaching staff from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. If this were to go ahead, teachers say they will be at least 20 per cent worse off on average in terms of the annual amount they receive in pension payments.

NEU leaers say information in the public domain shows Trust finances to be in good health. 

Sadaf Choudhury, NEU Rep at Streatham and Clapham Highsaid: “Teachers at Streatham and Clapham High work hard and deserve the pension they were offered when they signed up for the job. It is outrageous that we are being fired one day and rehired the next, to do the same job but for less money.” 

Sara Tomlinson, Lambeth NEU Secretary,said: “If 23 schools pull out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) this won’t just affect the teachers at GDST, it will weaken the scheme for all teachers across the country. We won’t let this happen. We’ll fight it all the way.

Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who joined the protest today, said that as of August 2020, the trust’s finances sat at £461.9 million, with available reserves of £43.1 million. She said 75 per cent of the affected staff are women and the NEU has expressed concerns that the changes will exacerbate the pension inequality already suffered by women. She also said the trust have also refused requests from the NEU to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment on their proposals.

Ms Ribeiro-Addy, who attended the school on an assisted place, said: “Threatening teachers with job losses if they don’t accept big cuts to their pensions is no way to thank them for their hard work during the pandemic.

I’m really concerned to see more and more employers using fire and rehire during the pandemic – not just as a last resort but as a first port of call. GDST need to sit down and negotiate with teachers and the Government need to legislate to end fire and rehire once and for all.”

The GDST  says employer contributions have risen as a result of the government’s changes, from 16.48 per cent to 23.68 per cent of teachers’ salaries  -an extra cost of £6m each year. Its trustees have denied “teachers will be at least 20 per cent worse off on average” – they say the proposed GDST Flexible Pension Plan would provide different benefits from the TPS, and the outcome would ultimately depend on what happens in the future.

Trust chief executive Cheryl Giovannoni said: “Changes in the TPS have had a severe impact on our expenditure and has put us in a very difficult position. We understand the strength of feeling amongst our teachers over this issue and of course the concerns raised by our parents. We care deeply about our teachers and would not have put forward these proposals unless we felt they were absolutely necessary to support the long-term sustainability of the GDST family of schools, enabling us to continue to provide an excellent and affordable independent education for our students, and at the same time ensuring teachers have a comfortable retirement.

“The unsustainable cost pressures of the TPS are being felt acutely across the independent schools’ sector. Following a 43 per cent increase in employer contributions to the TPS implemented by the government in 2019, in the region of 300 independent schools have left or are planning to leave the TPS, and many others are consulting on doing so. The government has covered this rise in full for the maintained sector, including our two academies, but independent schools must deal with this additional burden on their own.

“Teachers are central to the success of the GDST, and we value their incredible skills and dedication as the most vital asset in the education of the girls in our schools. We are proposing a strong alternative pension scheme, with a 20 per cent employer contribution alongside other benefits. The flexible pension plan the GDST is proposing will provide greater scope for a total reward package, including pay.

Former pupil and now Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, right, joins the protest

“We know how much our teachers care about our students and many have wrestled with the decision to strike. We are disappointed that the NEU has called for strike action while GDST Trustees are still considering all feedback gathered during the collective consultation process. When we opened consultation in September 2021, we confirmed that our Trustees would be making a final decision on how we would proceed in the final week of February. We have urged the NEU not to call for strike action prematurely, but they have chosen to carry on with strikes anyway.

“GDST has worked closely with heads in our schools to ensure students continue to learn effectively during strike action. This includes drawing on GDST resources from across the family of schools and making sure any lessons that are missed on strike days are made-up at other times.

“We hope that, once Trustees make their decision at the end of February, we can reach an agreement with the NEU and with our teachers and that strike action after that date can be avoided in order to minimise disruption to our students’ education.”

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