Staff striking at a Bedford independent school over claims of “fire and re-hire” tactics

Bedford Greenacre Independent School staff striking over pension changes. Image: Bedford Independent
Bedford Greenacre Independent School staff striking over pension changes. Image: Bedford Independent

NEU Members at Bedford Greenacre Independent School (BGI) began two days of strike action today, in response to what they claim are “fire and re-hire tactics” forcing those included in the Teacher’s Pension Scheme (TPS) to agree to new arrangements.

Teachers at BGI School took to the picket today from 7:30am until 9:30am and will do the same again tomorrow (24 April) over the dispute.

The TPS is a government-run scheme that guarantees benefits based on career length and salary. All state schoolteachers, and most of those working in independent schools, are entitled to be members of the scheme.

The changes would mean that teachers at Bedford Greenacre will see a pay cut of 3.5% from September 2024 to maintain membership in the scheme.

Commenting on the TPS through their union, teachers have said: ‘Teaching is not a lucrative profession, but one that teachers join with a sense of dedication to the success of their students.

‘The teachers at BGI School, all care for and value the school and feel privileged to work with the students, but despite this, they have to face financial realities.’

The National Education Union (NEU) is behind the action and supporting the teachers in their protest.

NEU Regional Secretary, Paul McLaughlin, said: “It is with reluctance that NEU members are having to take strike action to protect their pensions.

“Our preference is always to resolve issues through positive discussions, yet, despite our efforts, the Governors have declined to enter into negotiations.

“The employer has written to members indicating they will be sacked on Tuesday if they do not accept inferior terms. This is no way to treat loyal hard hard-working and dedicated teachers and is not acceptable to our members.

“A resolution to this dispute will only come about through dialogue and we call on the Governors to get round the table and flesh out a solution that works for everyone.”

Alternative pensions

Elizabeth Coley, Chair of Governors at BGI, however, says the teachers have been consulted fairly on the changes.

“Following detailed consultation with our teaching staff, the School has decided to change the pension arrangements with effect from 1 September 2024,” they said.

“This change sees the school offering teaching staff a choice of pension providers, enabling those who wish to remain in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) to do so, whilst also introducing a new, generous defined contribution pension scheme as an alternative option run by a different provider.

“This is in line with many independent schools locally and nationally.”

“Bedford Greenacre Independent School is committed to providing a sustainable pension scheme for our valued teaching staff.

“The consultation has been implemented because the TPS has introduced high increases to employer contributions, so the Governing Body has been forced to review its pension arrangements.

“The options we have provided are fair, more flexible for employees, and the level of employer contributions remains extremely competitive.”

A further statement from the school says that an “open dialogue with teaching staff” has been encouraged and the governing body is “happy to answer questions raised”.

They have also said they would provide details of pay increments earlier than usual, to allow teaching staff to make an informed decision about whether they wish to remain in the TPS or transfer to the new provider.

“The Governing Body is disappointed that the National Education Union (NEU) has suggested industrial action.

“However, the Principal and those leaders and teachers not striking, together with the support staff, will work around any strike action to ensure their pupils are well cared for and to minimise disruption for parents,” they added.

Mrs Coley added, “Our priority is to ensure that our pupils receive excellent care and education. We also wish to provide our teaching staff with a fair pension scheme.

“We will continue to work closely with our parents to ensure they are fully informed and their children supported during this period”.

Commenting further on the industrial action, Deirdre Murphy, Bedford Branch Secretary for the NEU added, “Bedford District absolutely supports the teachers at BGI School in their fight to maintain the pension provisions they rightly deserve.

“Our members have been placed in an unacceptable position where fire and rehire has become a reality.”

“Teachers would rather be teaching and are deeply concerned that there will be an impact on students due to the actions of the employer in resisting a sensible dialogue to resolve our concerns.”

Rate rise

The TPS employer contribution rate has risen from 23.68% to 28.68% of teachers’ salaries from April 2024. This follows an increase from 16.48% to 23.68% in September 2019 (a 43% increase).

In the state sector, the TPS is funded by the taxpayer, whilst in the independent sector it is funded directly from school fees which is why a significant number of independent schools have decided to leave the TPS and put in place alternative arrangements.

“Bedford Greenacre Independent School reiterated that their approach is to offer the teaching staff a choice,” explained Mrs Coley.

“We are not planning to remove the TPS or to reduce the cost of the 23.68% employer contribution. Staff who wish to remain in the TPS can choose to do so, they will just need to consider this option against their salary.

“Staff wishing to move to the new scheme will enjoy the same benefits they currently have with the TPS, but without the imminent increase, so keeping a 23.68% employer contribution which covers pension and protection benefits, with no salary implications to consider.

“The Governors feel this is a personal choice based on individual financial circumstances and, as such, the consultation process included independent advice from experts about how both pension schemes operate.”

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