Teachers have taken to the picket line outside a private school as a dispute over pay and working conditions escalates.

Members of the NASUWT and NEU teachers’ unions at Mill Hill School in The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, walked out yesterday and today (June 22 to 23).

The unions have accused the private school, which charges up to £39,810 a year, of slashing paid time off for staff to care for sick children and for key dates of religious observance.

But Mill Hill School Foundation says it is merely implementing a policy that is standard practice “across the education sector”.

A spokesperson for the school claimed that union members had demanded a 20.3% pay award, which is something that “could simply not be met” by the foundation.

But teachers and union representatives have disputed this characterisation. One banner on the picket line outside the school yesterday read: “we want respect, not a 20% pay rise”.

Keith Nason, secretary of the Barnet branch of the NEU, said that it was “misleading” for the school to state that the unions demanded a 20% pay rise as its “final position”.

He added that it was merely a “starting point for negotiation”, factoring in the erosion of real pay over the last few years due to inflation.

A document shared with Barnet Times Series shows that in requests sent to the school last week by the NEU and NASUWT, a 5% pay rise in each of the next two years or an 8% pay rise in 2023 was offered.

One mum of a child at the school, who did not wish to be named, said she felt the school was “running roughshod over goodwill”, and was “pitting parents against teachers” by quoting “misleading” figures.

She added: “I just feel that’s very underhand. The teachers will just feel that they’ve been completely thrown under a bus, they’ve been totally misrepresented.

“For me as a parent, I don’t want my child at a school where there’s a fight between the management and the teachers, with a loss of goodwill and low morale, which is very damaging.

“A small increment in fees is preferable in my mind to an overall poorer delivery in terms of education.”

The NEU said it believed this was the first local NEU strike in over two decades, highlighting the exceptional nature of the dispute.

A spokesperson for the Mill Hill School Foundation said: “We have continued to meet with union representatives to seek solutions to this dispute to avoid strike action, and we have presented a range of proposals to try to reach an agreement, including on pay.

“Paid leave has not been cut. We have recently put in place a foundation-wide policy that, for the first time, formally sets out how staff can make leave requests for various situations.

“The policy has been put together based on legal advice and HR practice across the education sector and has been designed to be fair across all staff – for instance those who have children and those who do not, and those who do and do not observe religious holidays.

“The policy makes clear that the foundation will consider all reasonable requests, and there is discretion for additional paid leave based on individual circumstances.

“We believe this strike action, however, is unnecessary and counter-productive to the children’s education and wellbeing.”