Teachers in a coalition of more than 20 private schools could strike over pensions for the first time in the trust’s 149-year history.
Members of the National Education Union (NEU) voted 95% in favour of strike action, on a turnout of 84%, in a ballot over the Girls’ Day School Trust’s (GDST) plans to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).
The NEU – the recognised union for staff across the 23 independent schools run by the GDST – said leaving the scheme would leave affected teachers 20% worse off on average in terms of their annual pension payments.
It said teachers have experienced a “steady decline” in their standard of living over several years, with pay rises below inflation and a pay freeze over the last academic year.
“If they were to lose the Teachers’ Pension Scheme as well, their pay and remuneration would be significantly worse than local state schools,” it said.
The union said GDST finances are “in good health” and that the TPS, a “contractual right of GDST teachers”, is “affordable”.
It said the trust had chosen to “spend heavily on capital expenditure” at the expense of its teachers and headteachers.
“Staff are also angry that their employer has threatened them with a policy of ‘fire and rehire’ to drive these changes through,” the union said.
A growing number of private schools have chosen to leave the TPS after the Government raised the rate of employers’ contributions by 43 per cent in 2019.
State schools were covered for the increase but private schools were not.
The NEU’s annual conference was told 147 independent schools across the country have left the TPS since 1 September 2020, the industry publication Tes reported in April 2021.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “We call on the council of the Girls’ Day School Trust to withdraw the proposal to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
“This is an exceptionally strong mandate. The trust should reflect on just how a large body of committed and hard-working staff have reached this point. Members are resolved and rightly determined to defend their pensions.
“We sincerely hope that strikes can be averted. We call on the GDST to withdraw the proposal to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.”
Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of the GDST, said that the result showed the “strength of feeling” amongst members.
“The ballot result shows the strength of feeling we know exists amongst our teachers who are NEU members in respect of the proposed changes to teachers’ pensions,” she said.
“We are of course disappointed with the result, but our priority is to continue working closely with our schools to ensure our students are able to continue learning effectively during this time,” she added.
She said the additional costs of the TPS since the increase in employer contributions in 2019 cost the trust an extra £6m per year.
“The government has covered this rise in the maintained sector, including our two academies, but independent schools must deal with this additional burden on their own,” she said.
“As a result, over 280 independent schools have already left the TPS. Many more are planning to leave or are in consultation with their teachers about changes.
“Teachers are central to the success of the 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.”