TEACHERS at one of Oxford's most respected private schools will go on a two-day strike to protest pension changes.

A 'large number' of employees at St Edward's School will refuse to work tomorrow and Wednesday, according to the National Education Union (NEU), instead forming a small picket line outside. 

It is not yet clear exactly how many will walk out, but the union said 66 staff members will have the right to. 

It will be the second strike this year at Teddies in Summertown, in opposition to the school removing staff from the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS).

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Diane Wilson, assistant district and branch secretary at the Oxfordshire NEU, said: "Teachers working at the school see their pension as deferred salary, set aside to support them after years of service to the students whose lives they have worked hard to enrich. 

"They feel angry and insulted that the governors have repeatedly refused to listen to their request to remain in the TPS and declined alternative ideas offered to reduce expenditure elsewhere. 

"The teachers at St Edward’s reject any offer of an inferior pension - they are simply requesting that which the vast majority of teachers elsewhere have as an accepted condition of their service."

The TPS is a scheme created by the government and run on behalf of the Department for Education, to define teachers' pension benefits, and last year the government announced a huge hike in employer payments.

Many schools offer the scheme to ensure they can recruit staff competitively, but the rise in employer contributions - an increase of 43 per cent, which St Edward’s described as ‘unprecedented’ - has fuelled funding pressures across the country.

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The government has pledged cash to help state schools cover the cost at least until the next spending review, but no such allocation has been made for the independent sector.

Nationally, at least 62 private schools told the government this year that they will be pulling out.

According to research by Schools Week, this includes three in Oxfordshire - Wychwood School in Oxford, and Rupert House School in Henley, as well as Teddies.

St Edward's School consulted staff in June, and has since notified the government that it will be withdrawing from the scheme in September 2020.

Chris Jones, chair of governors at the school, said: "I really am terribly sorry that this strike is happening - I wish it wasn't.

"The decision has been taken and executed - we have left the TPS, it's not that we are planning to leave.

"Teachers have had plenty of say during the consultation and they have the right to strike, but it's not going to lead to anything changing.

"We have been assured by a very large number of teachers that they are going to be working as usual, and that's why we will remain open."

The school delayed the timing of the withdrawal from the scheme by 12 month, at teachers’ request.

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Ms Wilson said the school has 'fiscal priorities in other directions,' referring to two large building projects at Teddies costing 'several million pounds'.

She added: "Other independent schools within Oxfordshire have taken a different decision by choosing to remain in the TPS. 

"They rightly see the scheme as a highly portable one that allows teachers to move between the independent, maintained and academy sectors, thus helping to stem the current crisis in teacher recruitment and retention."

She said the union is 'committed' to resolving disputes without the need for industrial action, but said school leaders had 'made no attempt to sit with the unions and engage in sensible discussion.'

Mr Jones said he contests the NEU's suggestion that the school has prioritised building projects over staff, adding: "We embarked on those capital projects before the [TPS] increase, and our parents and pupils expect and deserve for us to invest in facilities.

"It's also wrong to say that we declined to discuss alternative ideas - we looked very closely at ideas put forward, but none of them would have solved the multi-year obligation to pay a massive increase in employer contributions."

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He said there is a 'strong possibility' that contributions in the TPS will rise again.

He added: "I'm pretty sure that a very large proportion of private schools will be out of the TPS in the next few years. I know of very few schools that aren't thinking about it."

Mr Jones was chairman of the Blackbird Academy Trust, which oversaw the three state schools in Blackbird Leys before the group merged with a larger trust last year.

He said: "I've seen the enormous financial pressure on schools in the state sector, and private schools are undoubtedly better-funded, because parents have chosen to pay.

"That fact doesn't mean we can blithely put fees up more and more [to meet increased costs]. It's an expensive choice that parents have made and we regard it as our job to try to keep those very large fees as moderate as possible."

He said the alternative pension scheme would provide more flexibility for staff and 'attractive' benefits.

He also highlighted how it would still provide an increase in pension contributions, when compared to the TPS contributions pre-rise.