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Battery chargers;Career development

Keith Milchem suggests ways of retaining the vital spark.

My recent career development article on the age trap many teachers fall into halfway through their careers (The TES, March 20) drew a surprisingly large response. It evidently struck a chord with many middle-aged teachers in all sectors, and at all levels of teaching.

Most of those who wrote complain of feeling unfulfilled and are looking at ways of getting out of teaching. This is bad news for a Government that is already facing a teacher recruitment and retention crisis - these are not lazy people looking for an easy life. They are committed professionals who despair that their talents are going to waste.

Many have more than 15 years' work ahead of them and believe they have a great deal more to contribute before they finally lay down the chalk. But for many, options are limited by family commitments that tie them to a particular geographical area.

The need for action is urgent, if teaching is to retain its older, dedicated and enthusiastic professionals, because 62 per cent of teachers are now aged over 40.

Ministers and local education authorities should consider the following:

* Secondments Experienced teachers could be seconded for short periods to the LEA, or perhaps the local university, so they can write schemes of work and develop materials that could be used by others. Perhaps these could be posted on the Internet. They would then form part of a truly national curriculum.

* Training Money for further education and training is tight. I have been offered no subject-based updating courses for 12 years, even though my subject (biology) has witnessed earth-shattering developments during that time. Most of the courses available are for management training. So, to "get on", you must become increasingly removed from teaching.

The system used in Canada and Australia provides a useful model. There, after a certain length of service, teachers can take a sabbatical. The longer you remain in teaching, the longer the sabbaticals. This time could be used to recharge the batteries by taking an extended holiday, doing some research or further study or perhaps contributing to the community in some way.

* Job swaps The Government could also encourage schools to swap teachers. Exchanges could take place within a school or between schools in a consortium. Salaries would have to be protected, and the burden of this would need to fall on central coffers.

It would broaden teachers' experiences, which could be shared with colleagues in their own schools after a year or two. Such a scheme could be expanded to allow exchanges from one local authority to another - or from country to country.

* Consultancy work Most schools frown upon this as it causes them administrative difficulties. It also can disrupt pupils' learning. But the increased motivation and personal interest generated would far outweigh the detrimental effects.

Consultation about these and other proposals that could help older teachers who feel they are going nowhere is vital. Perhaps the unions could tackle the problem.

Future generations of pupils deserve to be taught by highly motivated teachers with high levels of self-esteem. This will happen only if the Government recognises the problem and funds the necessary developments. If it fails to do so, the consequences for the profession and the children in its charge could be dire.

Keith Milchem, 45, is currently head of science at a secondary school in Hastings, East Sussex, but has just been appointed to a senior teacher's post at The Causeway School in Eastbourne

SEVEN AGES: Years served - Predominant trait

1 - Enthusiasm

2 - 5 Self-confidence

5 - 15 Self-development

12 - 20 Boredom

15 - 30 Isolation

30 - 40 Cynicism

35 - 40 Lack of involvement

* Source: Schools Council

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