Conditions for teachers in Germany are so bad that those who retire through work-related stress should still be able to teach in schools in other countries, according to a landmark court ruling.
Teachers who take early retirement from schools in Germany due to illnesses caused by the pressure of the job can take up posts abroad and still cash in their pensions, the court ruled.
In the precedent-setting case, a court in Giessen, Hessen, found in favour of a 54-year-old man who was caught teaching in neighbouring Switzerland, even though he had taken early retirement in 1998.
After being alerted to the case, local school authorities demanded that the teacher, who has not been named for legal reasons, should return to work in Germany, a move that meant he would have had to return his pension payments.
But the teacher challenged the authorities in court, arguing that the conditions for teachers in schools in Germany were so bad that even though he was still unfit to teach there, he was able to carry on his profession in a school in the Swiss capital Bern.
Court spokeswoman Sabine Doerr said: "An independent expert also came to the conclusion that conditions in Switzerland are much better. The teacher's illness was a direct result of working in schools in Hessen."
The Hessen ministry for culture said it was surprised at the verdict.
Spokesman Christian Boergen said: "It is unbelievable that somebody who is claiming a pension due to an inability to work can continue his profession in another country."
Josef Kraus,Jpresident of the German teachers' union, supported the state, saying he had no sympathy with the retired teacher.
He said: "The actions of this teacher and the court's decision reflect badly on Germany's entire school community.
"There are 42,000 schools in Germany, some of which may provide worse working conditions than others, but there are also many good schools, including in the state of Hessen.
"If the teacher involved was not happy in his school, and if the conditions of working there made him sick, then he should have transferred to a different school where the workload may not have been as high and the children not as difficult to teach.
"Of course. there are conditions that many teachers are not happy with and areas that need reforming, but the entire education system would collapse if the 160,000 teachers in our association opted for early retirement and then went to work abroad."
Difficult conditions in German schools, including preparatory hours and increasing numbers of immigrant children, cause 26 per cent of teachers to leave the profession before the standard retirement age.
In 2004, more than 4,300 teachers took early retirement due to illness - more than half of them due to mental problems.