The dedicated veterans dismissed as 'blockers'

Instead of being valued for their expertise, union survey finds over-50s are abused and belittled in schools run by young heads

Kerra Maddern

Young headteachers are squandering the skills and experience of older teachers and are instead subjecting them to harassment and abuse, a union survey claims.

Classroom staff over 50 are often labelled "blockers" and ignored by the "bankers" - slick new teachers who subject them to age-related discrimination and prejudice.

The study concluded that older teachers are experiencing significant problems in the workplace. Some 34 per cent said others had been patronising or condescending towards them, 17 per cent reported "offensive and insulting" ageist language being used towards them, and one in ten said they had been ostracised and excluded from work related activities.

Around 14 per cent of older teachers said they were not invited to school social events because of their age, 29 per cent said negative comments had been made about their professional skills and a third said their views were "deliberately ignored or disparaged".

A total of 3,525 people took part in the survey, conducted over ten days last month by the NASUWT.

Almost 40 per cent said they had seen job advertisements which suggested older teachers were not eligible to apply and 10 per cent claimed they had been refused employment on the grounds of their age.

The NASUWT has announced that it will now campaign for a national strategy to support older teachers, including getting heads to use them as mentors, the chance to take sabbaticals, and new, dignified ways of "exiting" the profession.

Executive member Kathy Duggan said heads were abusing their powers and formally classing older teachers as failing as a way of getting rid of them - either because they did not "fit in" or had become too expensive.

"The number of older teachers looking for work is rising and this situation is going to get worse. We regularly receive casework from older teachers who are subjected to intrusive observations and negative feedback after a long and blameless career," she said.

"The message from schools seems to be 'no experience necessary'," she added.

The union points to the case of Lancashire primary teacher Barbara Staff, who received a #163;47,000 pay-out after being made redundant because she was "too old". Her school later employed a younger teacher, who worked four days a week for the same salary.

STUCK IN A RUT? I THINK NOT

After 25 years of primary teaching, Nicky Watts grew increasingly concerned about the treatment of older teachers. She left her job to write a PhD on the issue. She called her research Grumpy Old Teachers?

Older teachers seem to be perceived as presenting a 'problem'; a strong force that prevents schools from 'moving forward'. These teachers are the grumpy old ones, nostalgic for the good old days, stuck in a rut, refusing to budge.

I started to look for these grumpy old bats who were supposed to be hindering our children's education. I discovered that rather than hindering progress, these teachers showed a genuine concern for children, about changes in education and their own professionalism.

They held children's interests close to their hearts, but were sceptical about the many educational changes that come rolling in, week after week, month after month, year after year.

We seem to be in a situation where a single observation can crush a lifetime's work. Many older teachers said the tick-box approach to observation and assessment did not acknowledge their strengths. It seemed to them that no one quantifies the expertise of older teachers, so it is not fed into the equation.

There is no box for knowing the families, knowing the child, the neighbourhood. Many teachers said that now, all they are doing is 'covering their backs'; 'it's not about teaching any more' they say, 'It's about proving what you have done.'

Perhaps the issues that older teachers address are the very same issues that drive NQTs away from the profession.

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Kerra Maddern

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