Teachers at the world’s oldest school have decided to go on strike for the first time in its history following a dispute over pensions, as staff say they feel “undermined and undervalued.”
Teachers at the King’s School, Canterbury, who went on strike on Tuesday 13th June have further industrial action days planned. King’s is a fee-paying private school and the oldest continually open school in the world – founded in 597AD.
The teachers have accused the school management of taking a coercive and unfair approach over the pension negotiations. But the school – where fees range from £3,040 up to £16,650 per term – says the contract changes are much-needed. Managers say they need to be financially responsible, especially at a time of rapidly increasing costs of energy, food, building and wages.
The striking staff are all members of the National Education Union (NEU), which represents more than 450,000 teachers and educational staff in the UK. The NEU is not recognised as the union for academic staff at King’s – 80 per cent of whom voted for strike action on a 60 per cent turnout.
it’s not a thing any of us have taken lightly and I think honestly the atmosphere has been quite unhappy
However, the union has collected signatures for a petition to be officially recognised by the school, which it intends to present in the future. Michael Cox, NEU representative for staff at the school and a maths teacher of 18 years, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that it frankly feels terrible to be going on strike.
An NEU official said the union has in excess of 100 members across the schools. The vast majority of teachers at King’s are covered by the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – a government-run pension which guarantees teachers retirement benefits based on their earnings and length of career.
However, King’s governors have proposed to cap the school’s contributions to the pension fund, meaning that if the government sets a higher contribution rate for schools in future, staff will have to take a salary hit to make up the difference. Alternatively, teachers could move to a private contribution pension scheme, which the union says isn’t beneficial to all staff.
A teacher said “They’ve treated the lifeblood of the school incorrectly and they’ve got the response that I suppose is somewhat inevitable. For a lot of people striking it’s not about the deal, it’s actually about the fact that they’re using coercive tactics and forcing people to sign things under fear of dismissal through fire and rehire. It’s a principled stand against that kind of behaviour by employers.”
A spokesman for King’s School said: “Like many independent schools, we have been consulting on the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, for five months so far. The governors greatly value our teachers and the immense contribution they make to King’s. It’s important to note that many teachers have welcomed our proposals”.