By Deborah Simpson, Director of Legal and Member Services
In April 2015, significant changes were made to teachers’ pensions as a result of the Hutton Report and a system-wide re-examination and fixing of normal pension age (NPA). As people are living longer, both occupational and state pension ages have been increased with some teachers now looking at a possible NPA of 68.
Whilst we know that many of our members continue, by choice, to work into their 60s, we also know that many teachers are seeking ways out of the profession before their normal pension age, be that for health-related or other reasons. Government policy is now to encourage and enable workers to work for longer. For some local government employees, a shift from NPA 65 to 68 may not seem so great, but for many teachers it can seem daunting.
Voice is participating in the Working Longer Review, which is examining ways in which employers can help and facilitate teachers in England and Wales working potentially up to 68. But how does this sit with what seems to be an ever-increasing headteacher/employer attitude towards older teachers that focuses on ‘getting them out’?
Voice, along with other teaching unions, has seen a steady increase in so-called ‘capability’ procedures aimed at older staff, typically the over-50s. This often happens following the appointment of a new headteacher, and yet such ‘culls’ are in direct contradiction of the direction in which government wants schools to be moving forward.
In our last written submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body we highlighted the impending crisis in teacher recruitment and the key role that retention of the existing teacher workforce had to play in ensuring a sufficient supply of teachers for the future.
At a time when teaching is suffering from an image problem, because of ministerial and media pronouncements and attention on teacher workload, poor pupil behaviour, stress, lack of work/life balance and salaries that graduates can see are lagging behind those of other potential employers, helping and encouraging older teachers to remain at work and valuing the contributions they can make to a school are key.
So how is this to be achieved?
Voice believes that older teachers who are fit and well and want to continue working should be supported to do so, not eased out of the profession on spurious disciplinary or capability charges.
Teachers with health issues who could continue in work, given the right reasonable adjustments, deserve support. Older teachers have a wealth of experience and expertise to bring to schools and, as the first report from research commissioned by the Working Longer Review has confirmed, pupil outcomes are not affected detrimentally by being taught by an older teacher – often quite the opposite!
Schools that are flexible in allowing teachers to step down from posts of responsibility, or that accommodate part-time working, are also part of the solution.
The interim report of the Working Longer Review puts forward better-promoted welfare and Occupational Health services, adjusting working conditions and career support and better training for the over 50s as possible ways forward.
Voice is clear that, in some establishments, a fundamental change in culture will be required if older teachers are to be valued and supported.
[From articles written for November 2015 Your Voice.]