Teachers in strike threat over pensions


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The Independent Online

The leader of Britain's most moderate teachers' union warns today of more redundancies as a result of the squeeze on education budgets.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), also speaks of the "looming cloud" of strike action in schools this term over pensions.

"We have seen certainly this summer an increase in the union's work around teacher redundancies and support staff," she told The Independent. "We have seen a marked increase – staffing costs are usually over 80 per cent of a school's budget so are most likely to be affected in times of a squeeze."

She said the union knows that it has been more difficult for trainees to get primary teaching posts in schools this September. "When you consider the cost of training them, that's a huge waste," Dr Bousted said. "Across this year and next year we will begin to see larger classes, teachers working to increased timetables and cutbacks in buying books and equipment – such as information technology. All schools will have to look to their cost bases."

She said that arts teachers were first in the firing line – citing one of the reasons as being the introduction of Education Secretary Michael Gove's new English Baccalaureate, for which the subject does not qualify.

However, she said that the jury was out as to how important the English Baccalaureate would be in future, now that the Government has set new floor targets for the percentage of pupils who should be achieving five A* to C grades including maths and English in individual schools. The figure will rise to 35 per cent.

"I think that – if by concentrating on non-Baccalaureate subjects – I could reach a point in a challenging school where I met the floor target which kept me out of special measures [ie failing an inspection] I would do that."

The ATL leader also said her union "may well be in the position where we have to take further action" later this term. She spoke in advance of the start of the new school year, which begins in some schools this week. The ATL, which is traditionally the most moderate teachers' union, staged the first national strike in its history on 30 June over the threat to teachers' pensions.

Results showed that 85 per cent of its members' schools were either closed or partially closed as a result.

Dr Bousted said the union was fully committed to seeking a negotiated settlement on the future of the teachers' pensions scheme.

"I don't want to be too much of a Jeremiah and say we will repeat the strike action," she said. "After all, June was the first action we had taken in 27 years, so we definitely believe it is a last resort."

But she said the Government's move to press ahead with introducing 40 per cent of the rise in contributions to pensions from next March was "provocative". The union also wants to see some movement on plans to increase the retirement age and reduce final pensions.

If it remains committed to industrial action, then others – such as the National Union of Teachers – are bound to continue with strikes too.

Case study: 'I thought I was in a strong position'

Ann Savage, a newly qualified teacher, will not be going to school this week as the new term begins.

The 25-year-old is one of 11 in her class of 32 at Manchester University who has failed to find a full-time job for the new term. Ann trained as a French and Spanish teacher but – despite making around 20 applications – still has to secure full-time employment.

"There is so much competition for jobs," she said. "When you're a newly qualified teacher you're competing against experienced teachers and it seems schools are looking for experience."

Ann, from Manchester, completed her PGCE course in the summer. "I did think we were in a strong position because the government had introduced the new English Baccalaureate," she said. It insists pupils must have an A* to C grade pass at GCSE in a language.