The number of independent schools, colleges and academies considering leaving their defined benefit teachers’ pension scheme has ramped up recently.
Across the UK well over 200 schools have already exited, or have formally confirmed their intention to do so, and we’re currently working with over 30 other schools nationally, including several across Scotland, at various stages of their projects:
In Scotland our experience is that most schools are not yet at the stage of consulting with staff, but almost without exception those that have started the journey have one thing in common - their deadline. That is, their desire or need to have completed the process before the next contribution increase scheduled for March 2023*.
(*The next increase may be delayed by the remediation work required by the McCloud judgement. If that happens it’s expected to mean the contribution increase will be higher than would otherwise have been required.)
Bearing in mind that most schools’ pension review projects are taking a year or more end to end, often aligned with academic years, beating that deadline means projects really need to be kicked off now, in 2021.
For example, a project hitting the ground running from today is likely to be targeting completion at the start of the 2022/23 academic year:
May - July
Find and appoint subject matter experts / business advisers.
Detailed fact finding to fully understand the School’s needs and objectives.
Explore options for replacement scheme/benefit designs.
Minimum of 60 day staff consultation including but not limited to written content, staff seminars and optional staff ‘one to ones’.
December 2021/early 2022
Consultation checkpoint / communication of consultation outcome. Stop (keep STPS) / revisit earlier stage(s) / proceed to implementation?
New benefits and pension scheme - planning and implementation.
Start of 2022/23 academic year
New benefits and pension scheme - live.
Note: the minimum of 60 day staff consultation could be discretionary or statutory depending on the number of staff impacted. Our view is that it’s best practice regardless of the number of staff impacted.
Scottish Teacher’s Pension Scheme (STPS)
The journey is as important as the destination.
The vast majority of schools we are speaking to in Scotland tell us one of their main objectives is to have a quality pension solution and not to erode staff’s overall benefits package. They genuinely want to do the right thing by their staff, but the Scottish Teacher’s Pension Scheme (STPS) is outwith their control and simply isn’t affordable going forward.
However, if you look at the experience of schools in England you’ll find many that had the same positive agenda but still faced significant criticism and push back from their staff, in extreme cases with staff resorting to strike action.
In these scenarios, when a school had the very best intentions for their staff, but still faced a significant breakdown in trust and relationships with them, typically it was a sign that the process was not managed effectively and/or that the quality of communications around the staff consultation, including constructive two-way dialogue, were absent or inadequate. (I hasten to add, this hasn’t been the experience of any ofthe schools that we’ve had the pleasure of working with.)
We offer a free one-hour initial consultation to independent schools if you and/or your governing body would like to explore any of the above further, or want to discuss your school’s particular circumstances.