Teachers at Beijing Rego British School (BRBS) went on strike today as disputes over pay came to a head. Examinations are on hold and report cards will not be issued with less than a week to go before the end of term on Friday. Families – the few that remain – were told in advance not to send their children to school today.
According to a well-placed source who asked to remain anonymous, teachers and staff were not provided salaries or housing allowances between August and November of this year. BRBS’ board and CEO remain unresponsive despite repeated calls and emails from school staff.
Though BRBS staff finally received their pay and housing allowances in November, there is no word on what will happen this month. The school is not officially closed, but it is uncertain what will happen after December 13. Currently, only "two or three teachers" remain.
Despite an optimistic start at the beginning of the academic year, BRBS’ initial enrollment of 70 students has shrunk to almost nothing. "All of them are gone," said our source.
In addition, calls to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education – the government department in charge of inspecting and overseeing schools in Beijing – have gone unheeded despite parents "begging" for a representative to visit BRBS.
Parents are reportedly fuming over the latest developments. Those who paid half a year’s tuition will almost certainly look to other schools after the term is over, while those who paid for a full year are currently trying to get some of their money back – a possibility that our source believes is very unlikely.
The embattled school has experienced difficulties in the past, struggling with low enrollment and poor visibility. A new Head of School, Philip Billing, joined BRBS at the end of August but ended up leaving less than two months later in mid-October.
The problems faced by BRBS echo those of the Shanghai branch, which is also believed to have refused payments to teachers since August of this year. Furious teachers took to a local forum, Shanghai Expat, complaining that they had been promised payment “month after month” and that the delay had been explained as a result of the payment being made in euros rather than renminbi.
One member of staff at the Shanghai branch claimed that their medical insurance had not been paid since January 2013 while another reported that on November 26, the HR department “sen[t]text messages to the teachers…asking us to come teach today." The school was reportedly being operated by parents “since the Chinese assistants are on strike along with the teachers.”
Other sources in Shanghai suggested that teachers were initially suspended for informing parents about the financial problems at the school. There are also allegations that Principal Vanessa Armstrong fled to her native UK in mid-November due to the ongoing incompetence of, and lack of communication from, the school’s owners.
Photo: ell brown (Flickr)
Edit: We have been informed that the strike does not affect the Beijing Playhouse’s winter theater camps that we blogged about last week. The enrollment and two week program held at the school will go ahead as planned.