School teachers take strike action over pension row

Teachers on strike outside St Francis' College in Letchworth over pensions row

A pension row has prompted teaching staff at St Francis' College in Letchworth to take strike action - Credit: National Education Union

Strike action is being taken by teachers at a school in Letchworth over a row about pensions.

Teaching staff at St Francis' College are striking for five days - three consecutive days starting today, followed by Wednesday and Thursday next week - over a dispute with the school's governing body over proposals to leave the Teachers' Pension Scheme.

There will be pickets at the boarding school site on the strike days.

The National Education Union says the governors' launched an internal consultation in September, but calls to negotiate with the union have so far been refused, despite strong opposition to the plans.

The NEU says it tabled a motion to extend the consultation, to seriously consider other options, but this was refused by the governors.

In an open letter from NEU teaching staff at the college to pupils' parents, it says: "On September 6, the governors announced they wished to withdraw from the TPS and were opening the legally-required consultation process. On the same day, the entire teaching staff at St Francis’ College was served with a Section 188 Notice – the infamous and highly unethical 'fire and rehire' tool, which enables employers to introduce a new contract with significantly worse conditions of employment. Staff must either sign the new contract or face dismissal.

"The governors propose to make a significant cut to teachers’ pensions. This comes on top of the gradual erosion of members’ standard of living, brought about by years of pay freezes and below-inflation pay rises.

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"Now, staff are concerned for the future success of St Francis' College. If the TPS is not offered, the school’s ability to recruit and retain high quality teachers will inevitably be damaged.

"Striking is a last resort, and one which we hoped to avoid. However, the governors have refused to consider any compromise.

"We are seeking a fair, negotiated settlement."

Shaun Howard, the NEU's independent schools officer for Hertfordshire, said the strike action is proof of "the severity of the issue", adding: “They feel they have no alternative but to strike, in order to protect the future of the school as well as their own families."

A spokesman for the school said: "The governors and headmistress of St Francis’ College regret that teaching members of the National Education Union (NEU) have voted to take industrial action.

"Despite all our efforts to engage in a meaningful consultation, the NEU have been adamant in their intention to strike from the very start.

"Nearly a quarter of the country’s independent schools have left or are planning to leave the TPS because of the unrealistic and unsustainable level of  employer contributions which amount to a 40 per cent increase since 2019. 

"The College’s main objective now is to ensure that best possible educational experience is delivered by the non-striking staff and the Senior Leadership Team during this challenging time."

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