Countdown to strike action at GDST’s 23 independent schools

In one week from now, teacher members of the National Education Union in Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST)’s independent schools in England and Wales will go on strike to defend their pensions.

Six days of strike action have been announced:

10 February 2022
23 February 2022
24 February 2022
1 March 2022
2 March 2022
3 March 2022

1,500 NEU teacher members are expected to take part.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, will speak at a rally in London at noon on 10 February. Further details of that and other rallies to follow.

A single formal ballot, which closed last week, resulted in 95% of teacher members at the 23 schools voting in favour of discontinuous strike action on a turnout of 84%. (1) This is an unprecedented and overwhelming ‘yes’ vote for action, and the strike action will be the first in the Trust’s entire 149-year history.

The 23 independent schools covered by the ballot are: Blackheath High School, London; Brighton Girls, Brighton; Bromley High School, London; Croydon High School, London; Howell's School, Llandaff, Cardiff*; Kensington Prep School, London; Newcastle High School for Girls, Newcastle*; Northampton High School, Northampton; Northwood College for Girls, London; Norwich High School for Girls, Norwich; Notting Hill & Ealing High School, London; Nottingham Girls' High School, Nottingham; Oxford High School, Oxford*; Portsmouth High School, Portsmouth; Putney High School, London; Royal High School Bath, Bath*; Sheffield Girls', Sheffield; Shrewsbury High School, Shrewsbury*; South Hampstead High School, London; Streatham & Clapham High School, London; Sutton High School, London; Sydenham High School, London; Wimbledon High School, London. Those asterisked will not take part in the strike days planned for 23 February and 24 February due to it being half term in their area. Two other schools in the Trust, which are academies, are not subject to this dispute.

The Girls’ Day School Trust proposes to remove its teaching staff at these independent schools from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. If this were to go ahead, teachers will be at least 20% worse off on average in terms of the annual amount they receive in pension payments. The Trust has been unable and unwilling to demonstrate any financial imperative for this decision. What is in the public domain shows Trust finances to be in good health.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The Girls’ Day School Trust has no justification in its plan to slash the pensions of its teaching staff. This will be a disaster for staff, for future recruitment and for pupils.

“Teachers always take strike action with a heavy heart, which is why this extraordinary mandate should give the Trust pause. Members are angry and determined to defend what is rightfully theirs. These are committed and hard-working staff who have been pushed to the point of taking action, the like of which the Girls’ Day School Trust has never seen. Teachers’ strength of feeling is unwavering.

“Be in no doubt that this is an attack on members’ terms and conditions of employment. The threat of ‘fire and rehire’ before so much as a word of consultation is all the evidence you need. (2) It is also telling that the Trust has made no compelling argument to make this change to staff pensions. This is because they do not have one.

"Members will not be waiting for the Trust’s final decision in late February. That will be too late. Strike action on 10 February will send a clear message to parents and the wider public that the GDST is taking the wrong path. We call on the Council of the Girls' Day School Trust to unconditionally withdraw the proposal to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme now, not later. That is the surest way to settle this matter and avert strike action.”

Editor's Note

(1)

The formal postal ballot ran from 10 to 26 January 2022. The question put was:

"Are you prepared to take part in sustained and discontinuous strike action in furtherance of this dispute?

"Change to conditions of service [withdrawal from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and/or variation to pension provision]."

GDST own 23 independent girls’ schools across England and Wales. 71% of its teaching staff are members of the NEU, as of December 2021. Only teachers were eligible to vote in the indicative ballot. The NEU also represents staff at GDST working in other capacities.

GDST also owns two former independent schools which became academies. They have separate legal status and do not have the option of leaving the TPS, so their teaching staff are not part of this ballot.

(2)

(2) Notice under Section 188, Trade Union, and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 was given to the NEU even before a word was exchanged in consultation. In a letter to the NEU dated 22 September, the GDST wrote (our italics):

"As you will be aware, the GDST is required to provide further information concerning the consultation, and in particular about the proposed change to terms and conditions of employment. Under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the GDST must consult with the NEU as the appropriate representatives of the affected employees.

"We hope the proposal to vary terms and conditions can be agreed through the collective consultation process with the NEU. However, where agreement cannot be reached during the consultation and the GDST changes an employee's terms and conditions by issuing contractual notice and re-engaging affected employees on the proposed terms of employment, such a proposal would fall under section 188 of the above legislation, which means we have to provide certain prescribed information.

"However, the GDST very much hopes, through full dialogue, any variation to terms of employment can be agreed with you."

ENDS

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