Staff at Winchester College have been awarded a pay rise amounting to 6.4 per cent for a typical teacher, but members of the NEU could still take strike action over proposed changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).
A ballot closed on Tuesday February 2 with 82 per cent voting for strike action, on a turnout of 77 per cent.
The college said it was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement that NEU teaching staff had voted in favour of taking industrial action.
“This is despite the school’s best efforts to find a solution, and in spite of its strong belief that no grounds for a dispute exist,” the school said in a statement.
Following several months of negotiations with the college, union members agreed a pay settlement for 2022-23 after the employer offered to convert a one-off payment of £500 made in January to a permanent adjustment to the pay scale. This means a typical teacher will have received a 6.4 per cent cost-of-living increase to pay, the NEU said.
The ongoing dispute over pensions concerns the college’s proposal to close the Teacher’s Pension Scheme to new joiners from September 2023. Under a proposed “phased withdrawal” plan, existing staff would maintain their present rights, but teachers recruited to the school in future would be put into a defined-contribution scheme which has no guaranteed level of benefit.
The union argues that the alternative pension scheme for teaching staff is inferior to current arrangements. They also argue that phasing out the current scheme for new joiners will leave their existing teacher members in the college at risk of the employer imposing a full withdrawal from the scheme in the future.
Nick Childs, senior regional officer for South East NEU, said: “Our members still feel very strongly about the unresolved threat to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Winchester College seem to believe that they can offer an inferior package to new colleagues and that our members would stand idly by as long as their own terms are protected.”
A statement from Winchester College sought to quell any fears over the effect of possible strike action:
It said: “Winchester College is committed to giving its pupils a world-class education in a supportive and enriching environment. While we regard this potential strike action as inappropriate, we wish to reassure pupils and parents alike that strong contingencies are already in place should one go ahead.
“Our intention is that the school will operate as normally as possible, that boarding houses will remain open, and that the timetable will be revised to ensure continued teaching for all pupils, with particular emphasis on those in their public exam years.
“We will remain in close contact with pupils and their parents regarding the planning being put in place, and will ensure we continue to put their interests first as we prepare for any strike action. Members of our school community can also be reassured that we are committed to continued engagement and to bringing our teaching community back together when any strike is over.”
NEU national independent sector official John Richardson added that the “strength of feeling” at Winchester was “indicative of the growing unrest regarding pay amongst staff in independent schools.”
Last month, ISMP reported that the NEU was making a statutory application for trade union recognition at Radley College.
Independent school teachers belonging to the NASUWT union have also recently voted in favour of possible strike action over pay.
The dispute at Winchester comes a year after staff at schools belonging to the Girls’ Day School Trust went on strike over changes to pensions before a deal was finally reached.