The head of a teaching union has called for private schools to have their charitable status removed if they continue with “fire and rehire” policies.
Speaking at the Nasuwt teaching union’s annual conference in Birmingham, general secretary Patrick Roach criticised “bad bosses who believe it’s OK to threaten teachers with the sack in order to drive down their wages and living standards”.
Teachers at the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), a group of 23 private schools, went on strike earlier this year over their schools’ withdrawal from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
In March, the GDST said that teachers would be able to stay in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme if they are already part of it, although new teachers would not be, and withdrew the threat of pursuing “fire and rehire” policies.
If these schools continue their shoddy treatment of the workforce, then the public seriously needs to question whether these schools should continue to benefit from public contracts or tax subsidies
Union leader Patrick Roach
Dr Roach said that among private schools, there was a “growing list of shame”, including the GDST, where schools were “vying to strip teachers of their pension rights, without the slightest justification for doing so”.
He added that Nasuwt had asked the Department for Education to issue guidance to schools advising against the use of so-called “fire and rehire” policies and to publish information on schools and colleges that had used this policy.
Dr Roach said ministers had refused to do this, and that it was “not good enough” for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to say that the use of fire and rehire was unacceptable “whether in independent schools or the shameful actions by bosses at P&O ferries”.
He called on the Independent Schools Council, a leading body of private schools, to help Nasuwt deal with the issue of “gun to the head” employment practices.
“But, if they won’t, and if these schools continue their shoddy treatment of the workforce, then the public seriously needs to question whether these schools should continue to benefit from public contracts or tax subsidies,” he said.
Dr Roach told the PA news agency that he had heard Government ministers express their “abhorrence” over fire and rehire policies, but that the issue could be solved with the “stroke of a pen”.
He said that as with the behaviour of bosses at P&O Ferries, the Government had commissioned Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) to produce stronger advice for employers over the use of fire and rehire.
“Acas have been very clear. You don’t put fire and rehire, dismissal and re-engagement on the table whilst you’re at the same time consulting over changes to workers’ terms and conditions,” he said.
“What we’re seeing in the independent sector is, at the same time as an employer is saying we’re thinking about withdrawing from the TPS, they’re equally putting down their intent to dismiss and re-engage those workers – it’s a gun-to-the-head moment.”
He said he had written to ministers asking them to intervene and remind employers what Acas had said, and that if further industrial action was needed then “that’s the way it’s got to be”.
In his conference speech, Dr Roach criticised Tory MP Michael Fabricant for comments regarding teachers and nurses having a “quiet drink” in staffrooms at the end of their working day, in defence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s involvement with partygate.
“How dare he suggest that teachers spent their time drinking and socialising during lockdown?” Dr Roach said.
“His is meant to be the party of law and order. But his privileged pals were happy to party whilst the rest of us obeyed the law.”
“Mr Fabricant is the latest Conservative MP willing to act as a lightning rod to detract attention from the Prime Minister’s antics,” he said.
“And, from the comments I’ve read on social media, I know where many would like to stick that lightning rod!”
Dr Roach added that it was a “pity” that Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi had not joined the conference in person, instead sending a video message of thanks to teachers for their work instead.
Mr Zahawi also promoted the 500,000 additional training opportunities for teachers promised by the Schools White Paper before the end of the Parliament in the video.
Dr Roach said it was not training that was the issue, but a Government with a record of “siding with callous and greedy employers” over pupils’ best interests, while “wasting millions” in propping up failing academy trusts.
Referring to Nasuwt survey data showing that 91% of teachers had reported that their job has had a negative impact on their mental health over the past year, he said that teachers had self-harmed or experienced suicidal thoughts, while others had reported numerous suicide attempts among pupils.
“These stories are increasingly typical, and parents around the country should be as concerned as we are that these are the realities of schooling for their children,” he said, adding that ministers needed to “wake up” to these facts.
Dr Roach said that he called on the Government to “stop demonising migrants and refugees, respect international human rights, scrap the discriminatory and divisive Nationality and Borders Bill, and follow the lead of other countries in welcoming refugees and those seeking asylum and treat them with dignity” as he expressed solidarity with teachers in Ukraine.