Teachers at £13k a term private school strike over pensions after talks break down

Teachers at a fee-paying Lancashire college started strike action today (April 15) after talks over pensions broke down.

By Jessica Hubbard
Thursday, 15th April 2021, 2:36 pm
Updated Monday, 26th April 2021, 2:34 pm
A protester at the picket outside Stonyhurst College this morning. Further strike action has been planned.

Teachers at historic institution Stonyhurst College, near Clitheroe, formed a picket outside the Stonyhurst estate at 7.30 am this morning due to an ongoing dispute over funding for the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).

Negotiations have been ongoing for several months and, in March, members of the National Education Union (NEU) voted for industrial action.

The strikes could disrupt learning with further action planned to take place once a week this month, and over three days in the last week of April.

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The NEU picket outside Stonyhurst College this morning.

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In a statement, the college said it was 'disappointed' at the teachers' decision to strike but NEU representatives say that school managers and governors 'refused to engage in any meaningful discussions'.

Peter Middleman, NEU regional secretary, said: “With great reluctance, teacher members of the National Education Union at Stonyhurst College are taking strike action, having given appropriate notice to the employer.

"We had hoped to amicably resolve the dispute and continue to do so.

A protester holds up signs outside Stonyhurst as teachers strike over pensions.

"However, the issue is of such magnitude for teachers’ remuneration and pension and is likely to have such a damaging effect on the continuing academic excellence to which Stonyhurst aspires that teachers feel they have no option other than to carry out such industrial action.”

The TPS is a pension available to all state school teachers and 90% of independent schools but Stonyhurst management said the current arrangements are 'unsustainable'.

The college is proposing that its teaching staff contribute part of their salaries to fund the employer's contributions, which the NEU calls a 'significant paycut'.

Alternative pensions are available to the teachers but the NEU claims that these would be 'less beneficial' and could be a 'significant monthly financial loss' to Stonyhurst teachers.

A picket outside Stonyhurst College, Clitheroe as teachers strike over pensions.

Mr Browne, head teacher of Stonyhurst, and Ian Murphy, head teacher of Stonyhurst Saint Mary’s Hall, said: “We are disappointed that a number of Stonyhurst College and Stonyhurst Saint Mary’s Hall teachers are taking strike action following a ballot by the National Education Union.

“The additional costs of the TPS are unsustainable for Stonyhurst without a further increase in school fees or further cost restructuring, both of which would significantly impact our offer to pupils and their families.

“Our children and young people are, as ever, our key priority and a bespoke schedule has been designed for both schools during this time, and pupils will attend as usual.

“We are grateful to our staff who have done so much to support our pupils throughout the past challenging year and we are saddened to be in this position despite extensive consultation efforts.”

Ian Watkinson, Lancashire’s National Executive representative for the National Education Union, said that the decision to strike was 'momentous'.

“It really is a momentous occasion when independent school staff take strike action, and it is testament to the severity of the issue," he said.

"Our hard-working members are committed to the success of Stonyhurst’s pupils and the future of Stonyhurst College.

"They feel that they have no alternative but to strike, in order to protect the future of the College as well as their own families."

“NEU members desperately wish to resolve the matter amicably but believe that changes in the TPS would be a significant blow in the school’s ability to attract and retain quality teaching staff.

"For many NEU members working in the independent sector, detrimental changes to the TPS is a deal-breaker.”

This follows a number of teacher strikes over pensions and conditions across the country since the government increased employer's contributions to the TPS scheme in 2019.

Stonyhurst said the increase is costing an additional £320,000 a year.

Stonyhurst College lies within the Stonyhurst estate and is owned by The Society of Jesus, headquartered in Rome.

It is an independent, Catholic boarding school following the Jesuit tradition with tuition fees of up to £13,000 a term or £39,300 a year.