Teachers at an independent school will strike on Tuesday (December 5) because of a dispute over their pensions. 

The walk-out at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, involves members of the National Education Union (NEU), the country’s largest education union, and the NASUWT teaching union.  

The school says “contingency plans have been organised to ensure the school will remain open” and “that any impact on students will be minimised”.  

This dispute centres around new pension arrangements set to be introduced.  

The Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) is open to anyone working in the public and independent sector.  

Staff contribute between nine and 10 per cent; employers currently pay 23.6 per cent.  

The government is increasing the employer’s contribution to 28.68 per cent, a five per cent increase, effective at the start of the next financial year in April.  

For the public sector, the government is funding the increase, but for independent schools this means finding the extra funds.  

St Mary’s says the TPS costs for independent schools will be 74 per cent higher than in 2018/19.  

It has therefore put forward a solution that caps the school’s employer contribution at the current level of 23.68 per cent from September 2024.   

Jo Story, the school’s Chair of Governors, explained there has been an “in-depth consultation” with teaching staff and a decision was made “to introduce a more sustainable approach” to teachers’ pensions.

Des Hart, the NEU’s Senior Regional Officer in the Eastern Region, said: “The fundamental choice our members face is either take a pay cut now or get a worse pension when you retire... 

“...Your pension is contractual, so our members’ employer is seeking to change the terms and conditions of their employment contract. 

“Our members don’t want this, so we balloted for industrial action and they voted for strike action along with the NASUWT union.” 

Mark Burns, the NASUWT National Executive who represents members in Cambridgeshire, added: “Strike action could easily be avoided if St Mary’s entered a sensible negotiation as has already happened at the Stephen Perse Foundation.” 

Mrs Story explained the new pension arrangement “gives [St Mary’s] certainty about the size of future contribution commitments”.  

The school also stated 338 schools have left the TPS and 112 are implementing phased withdrawal.  

“... this is undeniably the direction in which many independent schools are heading both locally and nationally,” Mrs Story added.  

She said: “We are working closely with those employees involved to understand their concerns and try to reach an agreement.  

“Since the governors became aware of potential strike action, we have extended the consultation period so that the new arrangements will now come into effect from September 2024, and commissioned an independent workload and pay review and benchmarking project commencing in January 2024.”