Early retirement

I suppose there are two sides to retirement. The first is the heartache and regret that comes with giving up a rewarding job that you can't bear to leave after years of dedicated service, writes David Thomas. The second is the euphoria that comes from finally escaping the mania for paperwork, the endless planning, reinventing the wheel and struggling with the school budget.

In July 1996, aged 51, I joined the retirement stampede with a reduced pension and lump sum, shortly before the Government announced, in October, that the scheme was to be changed. I decided my number was finally up when a pushy adviser asked, didn't I understand the new "nomenclature"? Until that point I had still referred to key stage 1 as infants and key stage 2 as juniors, although I did reluctantly call the Wendy house the role-play area.

By then we'd already had ring binder after ring binder, and had been swamped with statements of attainment, profile components and enough mind-numbing record-keeping systems to send you giddy. I am referring, of course, to the embryonic national curriculum and the six-year avalanche of documents and handbooks that landed on my headteacher mat. By 1996 I'd done 30 years at the chalkface. I decided that was it, enough was enough, I'd head off to pursue an alternative lifestyle to the one that had me talking to the mirror and prevented me reading any kind of book for 13 years.

Wednesday, July 24, 1996, is a date imprinted in my mind. It was about 8am and I was sitting in a harbourside cafe in Paxos. I was at peace, secure in the knowledge that come September I could choose schools in which to do some supply work, undertake more writing and read the books I had accumulated. I had no intention of turning my back on teaching, and already had work lined up, but this would be teaching without the complications of what the Greeks call "crocodile days", when you can't do the things you want to do.

These days, I teach when I want to, write, and do some pictures for a travel company. In contrast, I watch a distraught head wrestling helplessly with the new budget. Managing the unmanageable I used to call it. The Government in its wisdom thinks that lobbing a few extra thousand pounds into a school every now and then solves the problem. Ministers think that having a teacher jumping through a dozen extra hoops to get a threshold allowance is fair. They can't see (or won't admit it) a sea of teachers in their fifties who are desperate to retire but can't - unless they can fathom out what an actuarial pension is and can accept its punitive structure. The prescriptive curriculum and endless planning breaks my heart, and in my supply travels I have met countless teachers who long for retirement. Crocodile days, my friends, I'm afraid you're stuck with them. Early retirement now is a complex and difficult business. Thank God I got out in time.

David Thomas was a primary head in Leeds

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