SCHOOLS and colleges across Pendle are closed today as teachers and lecturers take part in a one-day national strike in protest of changes to their pensions.
Across the borough, members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers and the University and College Union are mounting the strike over changes to the Teachers’ Pensions Scheme (TPS).
The row centres over plans for greater pension contributions from staff in return for reduced benefits and an increase in retirement age.
And although some schools have strived to keep lessons going for a limited number of pupils, it is thought around two-thirds of primary and secondary schools are affected by the closure.
The move goes against Education Secretary Michael Gove who pleaded with unions to rethink their plans saying ‘it will cause massive inconvenience to hard-working families.”
But such teaching unions have blamed the Government’s proposals which would see teachers and lecturers’ pension contributions rise, would see them working until the age of 68 rather than 66, and see the final salary scheme replaced with a “career average scheme”, giving 15% less in retirement.
Local branch secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) Jim Howarth said: “Striking is not a decision we take lightly. We apologise for the inconvenience and we are aware that these are hard times for everybody.
“But our pensions are being devalued - they are not gold plated like MPs’. To keep a teacher in the classroom until they are 68 is bonkers and it is going to affect our children and grandchildren’s education. In short it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“We hope parents and the community can understand why we’re taking action as a last resort. It is the thin end of a very thick wedge.”
The Government is planning to implement Lord Hutton’s proposals on public sector pensions, which will also mean civil and public servants face a doubling or tripling of their contributions.
Pendle Community High School was fully closed today while Pendle Vale College was partially closed for the industrial action. Primary schools to close included Barnoldswick Gisburn Road Community Primary School, Christ Church CE Primary School and Reedley Primary School.
Whitefield Infant School remained open but teachers staged a protest before and after school.
Mr Howarth added: “Not all of our members have gone on strike. Eight or nine members of the ATL who work at Whitefield are very mindful and decided to mount a demonstration outside the school at 8-15 a.m. and 3-15 p.m. to explain to parents and ask them to sign a petition in agreement.”
Lancashire County Council was on hand to offer support and advice around risk assessments and teacher-pupil ratios, but headteachers were encouraged to make their own decisions based on staffing numbers.