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Eyes tot he East

'We decided to invest our pensions, together with our lump sums, through a financial adviser, rent out our home and live solely on my Thai salary. Eric's wages we spent on travel

Jan Renton was 62 when she retired as a teacher of the deaf in Torquay. But she had no intention of taking it easy. Instead, she and her husband Eric, a college lecturer, signed up with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and headed for Thailand.

There, Jan continued teaching deaf children, and was paid the equivalent of a Thai teacher's salary by VSO. "My husband also had a job there, and accommodation was provided. So we decided to invest our pensions, together with our lump sums, through a financial adviser, rent out our home and live solely on my Thai salary. Eric's wages we spent on travel. And being in Thailand, look at the opportunities!"

Their adviser did an excellent job, says Jan, investing their money in a variety of medium-risk products, including managed funds, Tessas, endowment policies and annuities. And instead of spending two years in Thailand, they stayed for more than four, during which time they saw much of the region, travelling widely in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Australia.

On returning home, they found that their pensions, together with the proceeds of their investments, enabled them to have "a very comfortable lifestyle and still live in the manner to which we were accustomed when we were working".

While Jan and Eric were able to begin their retirement with a spell working with VSO, the charity says that too many teachers are put off taking a break earlier in their careers partly by concerns over lost pension entitlement. And it is urging the Department for Education and Skills, among other government departments, to do more to tackle poverty in the world's poorer countries, particularly African countries, by promoting and facilitating volunteering among its own employees. VSO points out that the British education system is highly regarded in Africa and receives many requests for experienced teachers and education managers.

"But we have had to turn many away because we simply cannot recruit the volunteers. This is not because there is no interest," says the charity.

"Teachers, teacher trainers and education advisers from the UK tell us there are real barriers discouraging them from volunteering.

"The UK education sector either does not share the British government's commitment to using its resources to make a real difference to the world's poorest children or has not yet found a way to express this."

VSO believes that, with support from the Treasury and DfES, it can help channel the commitment of many British teachers to those countries in Africa that need them, "and then bring their skills back to the UK after one or two years". Initially, the charity has asked the DfES to help recruit 100 additional senior educationists to work in Africa. It wants the department or the Treasury to cover their pension and National Insurance contributions while they are out of the country, and offer minimal help for schools and LEAs to recruit cover for the seconded teachers.

In addition, it believes that teachers who do such work should gain accreditation for the "well documented new skills" that they bring to the job on their return, and it points out that "73 per cent of VSO volunteers return to teach in UK and stay for longer than their colleagues who never left".

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