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Too Old to Teach?

As disquiet builds around government plans to raise the pension age to 68, we’ve been asking teachers how long they expect to stay in the classroom...

  • Too Old to Teach?

“The government has shot women in the foot”

“My experience is that as head of faculty, with lots of departments, you’ve kind of burnt out by 58 or 59. Part-time could be maintained ‘til 63 maybe, but after that you start to get physical things go wrong with you.

I worked until 58. At that point I broke my ankle so I took early retirement, though I went back on a three-day-a week contract until I was 60 and then covered a maternity contract.

Currently they say I’ll get my pension at 65 and nine months; it’s totally unreasonable. Originally it was 62, then 64, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it changed again.

The government has shot us – women – in the foot. We should have been given at least 10 years to add extra money in to our teacher’s pension, and thus retire comfortably. As a result I now do tuition work. I wouldn’t choose to do but it makes up the extra money.

I’ve been in education for 40 years and the things that they call innovative now were done 20 years ago. It’s not new, it’s just that the circle’s gone around.

By the time you get to your 60s you can’t tolerate people in their 30s telling you about ‘this new, wonderful thing’. If you’re not careful you find yourself being a bit sharp in meetings…”

Maggie Crozier is a drama-teacher-turned-private-tutor in Essex

“All ages seem unrealistic”

“From my experiences of the nature of this career, all formal retirement ages discussed seem unrealistic, whether 68, 60 or 82! As a result I don’t worry too much. It seems totally impossible to imagine teaching at that point, so any discussions about the exact age have limited impact, really.

There are certainly schools in existence which want the cheaper NQTs and feel that staff turnover is to be encouraged.

They can burn them out for three years or so…It’s obviously not a great strategy long-term – there’s a huge problem with recruitment and retention of staff – but from the heads’ point of view if they move on, well, there’s another intake of NQTs to replace them.

Many staff feel going part time is the only way to cope; unless you go into more administrative positions, a full timetable becomes too demanding. I think beyond 55 it becomes difficult to have enough energy; I think it becomes a struggle to go the extra mile that’s expected in the classroom.

If you speak to most people of 60 years old, and try to picture them inspiring 34 teenagers, you can imagine how challenging it is to carry on to retirement age.”

Darren Beasley teaches IT at a comprehensive in Surrey

“Workload demands are a killer”

“There are some people who can and do teach until they are 70 – and it’s great that they do – but they usually do so on a part-time basis in schools they know well. The profession needs these people but forcing them to teach full-time until they are 68 means they’ll be lucky to make 70.

With chronic teacher shortages, expectations on teachers rising rapidly, and life expectancy stalling in many parts of the country, the socio-economic case for raising the retirement age of teachers to 68 is looking far less secure than it did a decade ago.

The current workload demands placed on teachers make it impossible for the vast majority to contemplate working beyond the age of 60.

Either they stagger on, increasingly worn out, and quite probably suffering chronic illness, or they leave and face an undignified and unwarranted decline into relative poverty.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that teachers in mid-career will prefer to leave their jobs earlier and opt for a different career which won’t kill them, and younger people will turn away from the profession in even larger numbers.”

Carl Smith is principal at a comprehensive in Rutland

“My experience is under-utilised”

“Sixty is definitely the most reasonable retirement age. It can be hard to find the energy required for a full timetable. I think all teachers should have the option of part-time roles when they reach 60. I’d like to have the opportunity to take voluntary retirement. I’m dreading my final 18 months.

I feel a lack of fulfilment; it feels like a story unfinished. I have lots to offer but I am not sure anybody wants to utilise my experience and skills.

Experience is certainly helpful, not many situations arise inside or outside the classroom that I haven’t dealt with before. I feel very secure with my subject knowledge and the different ways that topics can be delivered successfully.

I am still an ‘enthusiast’, so I’m happy to listen to new ways of delivering lessons and strategies for behaviour management. I’m still leaning, so to speak, and that feeling does lift my spirits. But I feel that my experience is under-utilised, and that does make me feel a little resentful.

I get the sense that I am perceived as just ‘a bloke waiting to retire’.”

Anon, science teacher at an English-language comprehensive in Wales

“I’m taking early retirement”

“I’m in a fairly enviable position – I anticipate I’ll be able to afford to take early retirement when the time comes. Would I be able to carry on till 65? Personally I’m hoping that by then I’ll be on the golf course.

That’s 25 years off, but I suspect my school is a better place to be teaching in your mid-60s than some others. An older member of staff may have less to offer with regards to behavioural issues, so here they tend to teach the more senior groups where that’s not a problem.

The profession is getting more and more desperate for people to stay, and young maths graduates tend to be able to earn huge salaries doing other jobs. The ones that go into teaching have the benefit of holidays, the sense of making a difference…and the pension has always been a big draw.

If the government changes that it’ll be another kick in the teeth for potential teachers who are finishing up their degree courses. Are they going to want to work for an extra three years? It’s a consideration.”

Pete Walters, maths teacher at a grammar school in Kent

“I couldn’t be an active teacher in my 60s”

“It’s absolutely vital that teachers are able to get their pension at 60; I’ve worked in education for 40 years and at 62 I’m considering working part-time. Working as a secondary science teacher and then SENCO was incredibly hard, and hands-on. It has to be to ensure the positive outcomes that all students deserve.

After 15 successful years I took a post of SEND advisor with the local authority. Twenty years on I’m glad I made the move. Since leaving teaching I’ve had two knee replacements and now have arthritis in my hips and other joints.

I still do lots of training, standing all the while. At the end of the session I’m in great pain and need to take strong pain medication, which then makes me feel tired and a little ‘foggy’ – not good when trying to multitask and focus.

I’d like to go part-time next year, working three days a week until I’m 66 when I’ll retire. I know that if I was still teaching I’d have to retire before then. No way would I be able to be the active teacher that I was in my 20s and 30s.”
Anon, SEND advisor in Cornwall

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