Anne Clarke, principal of Benton Park School Technology College, shares her thoughts on the management of staff at the end of their careers.

The issue of pensions and retirement ages is not confined to the teaching profession. Thanks to the advancement of medicine and an improved standard of living for many, people are living longer and there are not enough funds in the coffers to support this burgeoning ageing population. To alleviate this strain on the economy, we are urged to work longer and the government threatens or promises, depending on how you view the proposal, to raise the retirement age to 67. With regard to the teaching profession, the statutory retirement age is 65, but most teachers view 60 as the acceptable age to ‘put down the chalk’, or in this day and age, ‘turn off the smartboard’.

Teachers’ pensions are based in part upon the number of years’ service, so by the age of 60 staff who came straight into teaching will have accumulated nearly 40 years’ service. Those who did the two-year Certificate of Education, no longer in existence, will have their full 40 years. Why do more? The majority also feel that they have earned their retirement by the age of 60. Educating the next generation is a demanding job, draining on the energy levels, so it is understandable that by the age of 60 teachers are ready to retire.

Why would others decide to work beyond 60? Having said that the majority of teachers wish to retire at 60, it has to be said that there is an increasing number deciding to remain in the classroom beyond 60. There are a number of reasons given, many of which are finance related:

  • Maybe teaching was not the first career choice, so there is a need to accumulate additional years’ service.
  • The expense of putting children through university is greater than ever and this has put a strain on finances (with the introduction of fees and cessation of grants).
  • Second marriages can mean two families to support, so retirement is no longer an option.
  • Caring for ageing parents can fall upon you when you reach middle age. This has become more of an issue with people living longer.
  • Staff who took time out to bring up children want to make up the shortfall in their pension.

None of these is a totally new phenomenon, but changes in society mean that more people are affected than used to be the case, for example there is no denying the divorce rate has increased and more people are affected by the financial consequences. In my experience, such financial demands as listed are leading staff to ask not only to work to 65 but also to work beyond. It is possible for teachers to work beyond 65, but this has to be at the discretion of the governing body. Contracts would otherwise be expected to terminate when the member of staff reaches 65.

One might be sympathetic to staff who feel the need to work until 65 or beyond, but one has to consider how realistic this is. Doing an additional year and working till 61 is not such an issue. It is even less of a concern when the staff mention that they are still enjoying being in the classroom or have a particular project they want to see through. To be fair to teachers, I need to point out that the incentive to work beyond 60 is not always for financial gain. Some staff still enjoy the job and do not feel ready to give it up. These are the reasons that gladden the heart and make it clear that you have no worries that this person is still an asset to the school.

Why might teachers be unrealistic in their attempts to work until 65 or beyond?

A question of stamina
There are bound to be exceptions to the rule, but most people find that their energy levels reduce as they get older. Even those who are cynical about teachers’ workloads and point constantly at the long holidays would have to admit that trying to engage with recalcitrant teenagers is not an easy job. To be effective five hours a day and to deliver quality lessons – nothing less is acceptable to Ofsted – requires stamina and high levels of energy.

Staff are now given protected planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time in school, but this does not cover all the PPA teachers need to do, nor does it take into account the demands of keeping up to date with their subject and the onslaught of educational initiatives. There might be those at 65 who say ‘I’ve never felt livelier’ and scoff at the point being made but the majority of teachers would probably admit that it would be a physical strain to be on their feet in the classroom roughly five hours a day with teenagers.

The demands of life
It is frequently the case too that when one is middle aged family demands increase. Elderly parents need looking after, grandchildren appear, or children are back from university needing food and shelter while they pay off debts and save to go backpacking! Of course, younger people can find themselves in the role of ‘carer’, but I am aware of so many teachers under the strain of these family demands who, out of choice, would not wish to be teaching up to the age of 65.

Staying in tune I have heard it said that, ‘teaching is a young person’s game’. This often relates to the fact that as we get older we can lose touch with what makes the next generation tick. ‘The generation gap’ is not new, but is particularly relevant to teaching where one is constantly in the company of the young. It is not simply a question of thinking music is too loud or saying ‘I would never wear that’, that is a cliché, but more to do with the complex issue of managing pupil behaviour. There is no doubt that today’s youngsters are the ‘negotiating generation’. They like to discuss their behaviour and negotiate a solution. They are aware of justice, what is fair, and the merits or otherwise of the sanctions and rewards given. They will not accept the teacher saying ‘because I say so!’, this only leads to confrontation and exacerbates the situation. It is sometimes evident, although not always by any means, that staff towards the end of their careers are finding it difficult to accept the ‘moods and mores’ of the next generation, and some readily admit to this. This leads to frustration and detracts from the enjoyment of the job.

If staff who are feeling this way as they approach their sixties are forced to continue until 65, how damaging it will be for them and the young people in their care.

Workforce reform
In many ways ‘workforce reform’ is not helping the older members of the teaching profession. With ‘workforce reform’ it is no longer possible for teachers to take an administrative post; these have to be given to support staff. It could be an advantage to staff as they were progressing through their careers to have a reprieve from the demands of the classroom and take on an administrative post, like that of examinations secretary. Not only would it give a few hours in the week when there was a job to be done, which, although demanding, did not necessitate standing in front of a class, but it also provided variety. Thanks to ‘workforce reform’ this is no longer an option.

Strategies to help
Sadly, voluntary early retirement with or without enhancement does not seem to exist any more. This was the scheme whereby teachers could access their pensions at 50 and, if they received enhancement, it was without losing out on their pension. There may be LEAs still operating this scheme, but I am not aware of any. If the government wanted to help teachers to carry on ‘performing’ to 65 then it would be a good idea if they could allow staff to go part-time from say 55 onwards without having a detrimental effect on their pensions.

Instead of 0.5 timetables counting as half a year towards the pension they could count as one full year. I am sure that some staff would take this option and it would help them towards the end of their careers, and schools would still benefit from their knowledge and experience.

It is also a pity that teachers’ pensions work on /80ths, so that teachers have to do 40 years’ service for a full pension. Why not /60ths, so that after 30 years teachers have a full pension. Is not 30 years in the classroom long enough? It is a pity that financial considerations will prevent the government from making this happen.

How Benton Park is tackling the problem:

  • Governors did not wish to raise the retiring age beyond 65, as it would not be beneficial to some staff for all the reasons given. However, they did not want to lose experienced and knowledgeable colleagues. Therefore, staff who wish to work beyond 65 come back on a supply basis, and then the situation can be reviewed annually. This is also helpful in a climate of tight budgets when staffing complements may need reducing. Schools would not want to be making staff redundant because staff never retired! Neither do they want to be accused of being ageist.
  • Governors have also used the Leadership Incentive Grant (LIG), not available to all schools, to enable leadership group members to reduce hours at no detriment to their pension. This not only saves money, but also creates continuous professional development opportunities for those who take on the leadership tasks they have vacated.
  • Experienced staff have moved to non-teaching posts, when they have felt they have had enough of teaching but still want to give something to the school. The role of ‘extended schools coordinator’, a high-level non-teaching role, has provided such an opportunity for a senior colleague. We have been able to give a career opportunity to a member of staff, who will relish the new role.

Apologies to those staff who feel that they can still perform at 65 as they did at 25. I think they are the exception to the rule. For the sake of the next generation of learners, the government should make it possible for staff to reduce their hours in the twilight of their years without financial loss. Having maybe given 30 or 35 years’ service, they are deserving of such considerations. Teachers could then work part-time for the last few years of their careers, thus pacing themselves and preserving their energy levels. This would be much better for them and for the pupils. As this does not appear to be a possibility in the current climate, schools need to develop their own strategies.


Recent government proposals on retirement

The government has recently put forward proposals to raise the retirement age of teachers to 65 but has offered the following guarantees:

  • Serving teachers aged 50 and over will not be affected by the changes.
  • Pension benefits earned before the new arrangements are introduced will not be affected.
  • Teachers will still be able to retire at, before, or after 60. Pension benefits will take in to account years worked before and after changes.
  • Existing teachers will not be immediately affected.
  • The proposals suggest that, from 2006, all new entrants to teaching in England and Wales will have to work until 65 to qualify for a full pension.