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Teachers at Palmers Green High School staged a strike on Monday and Tuesday this week in protest at plans to change their pension scheme and the refusal of the school's board of governers to meet unions formally to discuss the proposals.

teachers picketing outside palmers green high schoolStriking teachers outside Palmers Green High School (photo: NASUWT)

The strike by members of the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Schoolmasters & Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) is the first ever at the private girls' school in Hoppers Road. Teachers say that the governing body is forcing them to choose between being moved to an "inferior" and "risky" pension scheme or no longer being eligible for future annual incremental pay increases if they wish to remain members of the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS). Furthermore, joining the TPS would not be an option for new teachers recruited by the school, which charges annual fees of more than £20,000.

Head teacher Sarah Proudlove, herself a union member, told reporters that she supports the strike, but said that her responsibility was to "make sure the school stays operational and keep the ship sailing".

Interviewed on BBC London this morning, assistant head teachers Steven Morris and Anna Fowler explained why staff are so angry about the planned change:

"Changing our pensions from September is a real shock.

"It's not a particularly well paid profession overall, even in a private school, and the teachers' pension has always been one of the big things about being a teacher. In the current system you have defined benefits when you retire. With this new scheme, our secure future is in doubt.

"Many of the teachers have been here for 20-25 years or more and are nearing retirement. It will have a devastating impact on the amount of money in that final pension pot that we then have to live off in retirement. And there isn't enough time to start investing in another pension pot in the few years left before we stop teaching."

In common with other private schools, the governing body at PGHS have said that following a significant increase in the employer's contribution the TPS is no longer affordable. But, striking teachers point out, the school has reassured parents that it is in a state of financial health sufficient for it to absorb Labour's plan to levy VAT on private schools, a statement that is backed up by the school accounts, which show reserves of around £7m.

A further issue is that the school only gave teachers one term's notice of the change in pension arrangements, which it intends to bring in this September.

"This is so quick, we think it should be a much more thought through process, to see if we can find an alternative resolution. We want to sit down and talk and find a solution.

"None of us want to be here, there are staff here who feel terrible about letting the kids down, we just want to find a solution. We all want the kids to have an amazing time at our school, so we just need to talk."

At the time of reporting the school had not responded to a request to comment.

This report was amended on 10th July to correct information about the trade unions that were involved.


Teachers strike over pension ultimatum (BBC News website 9 July 2024)

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