Early bath for tired leaders

STATE OF THE PROFESSION 2006-07: * Family comes first for female staff who are postponing their promotion bids l Teachers are retiring early * No one wants to be a headteacher * But new teachers are more confident than ever

Thousands of teachers take early retirement every year, leavingwith a full or reduced pension. Statutory retirement age is 60.

Teachers can retire at 55, with governors' permission, but their pension is often drastically reduced. Other teachers can be medically retired with their full pension if they are sick enough, but this is often difficult to prove. Since 1997, teachers, regardless of age, have been required by the Teachers' Pension Agency to provide medical evidence that they are unfit to teach and will remain so until they are 60.

However, many more teachers quit without a pay-out, often choosing to seek a new job instead after becoming disillusioned with school life. Official figures show that an estimated 122,500 teachers in England left before 1989 without receiving their pension. Between 1989 and 1993, some 32,500 teachers quit and a further 41,000 are said to have stopped teaching between 1994 and 1998. But numbers have risen in recent years, mirroring an increase in teachers who have formally retired since Labour came to power.

Department for Education and Skills figures show that some 85,100 trained teachers stopped teaching between 1999 and 2004 - more than double the number five years earlier.

The DfES estimates there are now 281,200 qualified teachers in England who no longer teach, 145,200 in secondary, 95,500 primary and 6,900 special school staff. The Teacher Support Network, a helpline for staff who are suffering stress or other difficulties with their careers, has reported a massive increase in calls.

But, perversely, the number of teachers being medically retired has fallen in recent years. Latest figures from the DfES show that 1,540 teachers were medically retired in 200405 compared with 5,290 a decade earlier. Unions say this is down to changes in the regulations governing ill-health retirement which mean staff must now prove they are permanently unfit to teach - a requirement especially difficult for teachers in their forties or early 50s.

It has meant that many who would have been retired sick on medical grounds in the past are now either choosing to work outside the classroom or take early redundancy.

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