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Teachers prepare to strike over pensions at Girls’ Day School Trust

09 Feb 2022 News

Teachers at one of the country’s largest education charities are preparing to go on strike tomorrow in response to proposed changes to their pensions.

The National Education Union (NEU) said that hundreds of its members would be striking on Thursday to protest against plans from the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST). This is set to be the first of six days of industrial action, which will affect 23 GDST schools.

The union says the pensions plan will “slash” teachers’ entitlements after they retire, while the charity said it was still considering staff responses to a consultation on the reforms and urged teachers to wait for its final decision at the end of this month.

Some 95% of NEU members backed strike action at GDST schools in a ballot with a turnout of 84%, according to the union.

£6m costs to charity

In a statement on its website, GDST said the charity had faced a “steep increase” since 2019 in employer contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, from 16.48% to 23.68% of teachers’ salaries. This has cost GDST an additional £6m per year.

The increase has “had a severe impact on our expenditure and has put us in a very difficult position”, the charity said, pointing out that the rise is covered by the government for state schools and academies but not for private schools.

As a result, it has been consulting with staff on plans to make employer contributions 20% of teachers’ salaries. That consultation closed in January, with a final decision from the charity due at the end of this month.

‘A disaster for staff’

The NEU said it was pressing on with strike action because GDST “has been unable and unwilling to demonstrate any financial imperative for this decision. What is in the public domain shows GDST finances to be in good health”.

Data from the Charity Commission shows that the charity has spent over £250m in each of the last three years.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “GDST has no justification in its plan to slash the pensions of its teaching staff. This will be a disaster for staff, for future recruitment and for pupils.” He described teachers as “committed and hard-working staff who have been pushed to the point of taking action, the like of which GDST has never seen”.

Courtney said that his members “will not be waiting” for a final decision on the pension consultation, and called on GDST to “unconditionally withdraw the proposal to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme now”.

GDST: Teachers are central to success

In a statement earlier this month, Cheryl Giovannoni, the chief executive of GDST, said that the charity’s trustees were considering the feedback received from teachers and intended to make a final decision in the last week of February. She said: “We urge the NEU not to call for strike action before any decisions are made, or any further proposals are put forward.”  

Giovannoni added: “Teachers are central to the success of GDST and we value their incredible contribution and dedication to the education of girls in our family of schools. We have put forward these proposals in response to the challenges we face to control costs and are committed to providing our teachers with a strong alternative pension scheme, with a 20% employer contribution into a flexible, defined contribution pension plan alongside other benefits. 

“We would not have put forward these proposals unless we felt they were necessary to support the long-term sustainability of the GDST family of schools, enabling us to continue to provide an excellent and affordable education for girls in our schools and at the same time ensuring our teachers have a comfortable retirement.”

Further strikes are planned for 23rd and 24th February, then 1st, 2nd and 3rd March. 

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