Education & Family

Teachers' union summer pensions strike warning

Schools in the UK could be hit by strikes this summer term over cuts to teachers' pensions.

Members of the National Union of Teachers say they might join other public sector workers in industrial action over pensions.

The NUT and the other major classroom teachers' union, the NASUWT, are in dispute with the government over pension changes.

Ministers say reform is needed to make public sector pensions affordable.

The two teachers' unions are holding their annual conferences during the Easter bank holiday weekend.

Pensions and pay

Pensions and pay are high on their agendas, as is their opposition to changes which the government says will make it easier for heads to remove poorly-performing teachers.

Teachers and other public sector workers have been angered by recent suggestions from the government that public sector pay should reflect regional pay rates.

The two unions meeting this weekend have already taken strike action over pensions alongside other unions in walk-outs which closed about two-thirds of schools in the UK in November.

At a news conference at the NUT's conference in Torquay, union leaders said members would continue to oppose the pension changes.

They say the changes will mean teachers working longer and paying more for a smaller pension.

NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: "When pension contributions begin to rise this April, teachers will see a cut in their take-home pay for the first time since the 1930s".

"George Osborne [the Chancellor] is talking about holding back pay in some areas until private pay catches up. That would be met with an extremely hostile reaction."

The union's general secretary, Christine Blower, suggested the union would try to avoid strikes in the exam period.

"The dispute is with Michael Gove [the education secretary]. We would not be setting out deliberately to undermine the exam season," she said.

The NASUWT moved from strike action over pensions in November to a work-to-rule.

The government says pension changes - which will see teachers' retirement age rising to 68 and an increase in their contributions - will not affect those within 10 years of retirement.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "This deal is as good as it gets and takes the right balance - guaranteeing teachers one of the best pensions available but keeping a lid on rising costs for the taxpayer.

"We've been in serious talks for months with unions to address their concerns and reach a final settlement.

"The cost to the taxpayer of teacher pensions is already forecast to double from £5bn in 2006 to £10bn in 2016 and will carry on rising rapidly as life expectancy continues to rocket."

She added that any decisions about regional pay would be taken so far into the future that it would be premature to talk about industrial action.

Coalition changes

Delegates at the two conferences are also set to voice their anger at a range of other government policies which are bringing many changes to schools.

Those from England will attack some of the key changes made to schools since the coalition came to power nearly two years ago.

Delegates will focus on the moves to get more schools to become academies - schools which are outside local authority control - and the creation of free schools.

Figures released on Thursday show there are now 1,776 academies open and that 40% of secondary schools now have this status with more poised to change. When the coalition came to power, there were just 200 academies.

The unions say the change is breaking up the state school system and will lead to a lack of co-ordinated planning.

Ministers say such changes will give head teachers freedom to make decisions for their pupils and drive up standards.

Teachers at the NUT will also criticise plans for England which the government says will make it easier for head teachers to remove poor teachers.

Ministers want to cut the time it can take to remove an underperforming teacher from a year to one term.

The unions say the changes are a "bully's charter" - while the government says it will simplify a bureaucratic system.

'Anger and frustration'

Sarah Ebner, who blogs on education for The Times, said such a move would be particularly important in primary schools.

She told the BBC: "People always think about GCSEs and A-levels, but in primary school you only have one teacher for a year. If that's a poor teacher your child can basically lose a year at school."

The NUT's Christine Blower said: "The problem with the changes that the government is bringing in is that the whole tone of it is extraordinarily punitive.

"It's all about catching teachers on a bad day, not doing their best. Whereas what we should be having is a supportive system that says 'We've invested money in this person, we want them to do the very best job they can.'"

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said her union's conference would be "a referendum on the coalition government's performance so far and it will undoubtedly be found deeply wanting".

She said: "The depth of anger and frustration is evident in the motions balloted by members for debate."

"There has been no respite from the attacks on every aspect of a teacher's working life."

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