Bullied older teachers deserve more than being managed out of the classroom

Older teachers are being put under huge pressure to leave the profession – why are schools so careless about discarding such talent and experience?
6th March 2020, 12:04am
Older Teachers Deserve More Than An Unrequited Love Story

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Bullied older teachers deserve more than being managed out of the classroom

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/bullied-older-teachers-deserve-more-being-managed-out-classroom

“Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers,” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson.

He obviously wasn’t talking about teaching in this country: wisdom certainly doesn’t linger long here. We constantly talk about the need to retain staff, but often we fail to acknowledge our failure to hold on to those groups that could make all the difference.

If we did all we could to hold on to our older teachers, we’d also be in a better place. But that costs money that schools don’t seem to have.

What a waste of talent. What a waste of experience.

According to the government’s own statistics, the age profile of teachers has changed since 2011. Back then, there were 52,000 teachers aged 55 and over, 12 per cent of the total number. By 2018, this figure had reduced to 35,500 teachers aged 55 and over - 8 per cent of the total number.

Meanwhile, the average age of a teacher in England is 39 years old, according to the last Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis). It is the lowest average age among the participating countries; the average age of all teachers in the survey was 44 years old.

And by all accounts, we can expect the number of older teachers to shrink even further. This cohort (which, apparently, includes 35- to 40-year-old teachers in some cases) is being put under huge pressure to leave by being disproportionately placed on capability procedures and having pay progression withheld, as well as being subject to excessive observation and scrutiny, the NASUWT teaching union has revealed.

Some of the stories from such teachers are heartbreaking. One primary teacher who contacted the Education Support charity for help had been teaching at the same school for 19 years before being “bullied and indiscriminately placed on a support plan” and forced out. Teaching, they said, had “been my life”.

Do we really want to lose such devoted teachers? Do we really want to put all that money and effort into training a teacher, developing and honing their skills, only to then cast them aside and start the process all over again? That way madness lies (and plenty of age discrimination cases, too).

We talk a lot about knowledge in schools and how important it is for children to acquire. But it’s also vital for teachers. They need to learn from their peers. You can learn by experience, but you can learn so much from the experience of others.

Every school, every workplace, needs those wise owls who have been there and done it, who can offer advice and help to their younger colleagues. They can stop them reinventing the wheel, wasting their time and adding unnecessarily to their workload.

But it’s not just that we need these teachers to help others. They need to be protected because it is their right. And this isn’t any old deliberate ageism. This is balance-sheet ageism. Older teachers, say leaders, are simply too expensive.

But compared with what? Experience is valuable - which is why it costs money. You get what you pay for and the vast majority of older teachers are worth the extra cost for what they bring to a school.

They deserve more respect. Tennyson’s poem was about the pain of unrequited love. And it’s love that so many teachers have for what they do. We shouldn’t spurn them and cast them aside after giving their all to the profession. They deserve to retire on a high, not with sadness and despair.

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast/ Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.”

Tennyson’s words should not become an epitaph for the older teacher.

@AnnMroz

This article originally appeared in the 6 March 2020 issue under the headline “Older teachers deserve more than an unrequited love story”

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