Education & Family

Head teachers to vote over pension strike

Image caption If head teachers vote to strike, a walk-out is likely in the autumn

Head teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are to be balloted on potential strike action over reductions to their pensions package.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said it was balloting its members over the cuts with "great reluctance".

It comes after two teaching unions joined lecturers in backing a strike on on June 30.

The government said a strike would damage children's learning.

Negotiations window

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: "With great reluctance, faced with threats and a refusal to negotiate from the government, we feel we have no option but to demonstrate our anger at his attack on the teaching profession.

"Like everyone else, teachers have paid the price for the recession in taxes and pay cuts. They are now also being taxed to pay for the mistakes of others.

"We fear for the future of a system with a demoralised and devalued profession. We fear that we will not be able to attract people to become heads at a time when targets and workloads are rising."

For procedural reasons even if heads back the strike NAHT members will not be joining teachers on the picket lines on June 30.

The union represents 28,000 school leaders.

Mr Hobby added: "In planning the timing of this ballot, we feel that we have created a proper window for negotiations to continue and, hopefully, prevent the need for action."

'Hardly surprising'

If NAHT members support the ballot, the union anticipates a walk-out in the autumn.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The government is committed to working openly and constructively with unions to ensure that teachers continue to receive high quality pensions, and that the interests of all professionals are represented fully as pension reform is taken forward.

"Lord Hutton [who carried out a review of public sector pensions] has made it clear that there needs to be a balance between a common framework for all schemes and the need for flexibility to take account of specific workforce circumstances, such as those of the teaching workforce.

"But we are clear that a strike by teachers will only damage pupils' learning and inconvenience their busy working parents. The well-being and safety of pupils must remain paramount."

The NAHT decision comes as Treasury minister Danny Alexander confirmed the public sector retirement age would be linked to the state pension age, which is due to rise to 66, and that contributions will rise.

The government is expected later this year to give a detailed response to the review by Lord Hutton, which recommended changing public sector pensions to career average rather than final salary schemes.

However, the ATL teachers' union says that in January - before the Hutton report was published - the government wrote to it saying it intended to raise teachers' contributions from 6.4% to 9.8% of their salaries.

And the measure used to calculate how teachers' pensions increase to allow for inflation was changed in April 2011 from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is usually lower.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers - which announced ballot results earlier this week in favour of a strike - said it was clear the government had no intention of negotiating openly and seriously on pensions.

"It would appear they have already decided the changes they wish to make to public sector pensions regardless of the consequences or the facts.

"Given this position it is hardly surprising that some unions feel they have no other option than to ballot for strike action."

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