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Q. If the Government's proposals to change the arrangements for early retirement go through, must I abandon my plan to retire at 55?

A. Maybe. It is important to remember that the proposals are not seeking to change the rules on retirement, but simply the arrangements for paying for it.

It has been a feature of the Teachers' Pension Scheme for many years that an employer has the discretion to allow a teacher to retire "in the interests of the efficient discharge of the employers' function".

This meant that teachers who felt "burnt out" could be released and, in recent years, senior teachers with high salaries could be replaced by new recruits who cost a great deal less.

Both situations, it might be argued, had been exacerbated by government policies over the past 10 years, but, whatever the reasons, the number of teachers taking this way out has increased to the point where the cost to the pension scheme is deemed to be unacceptable.

What the Government now proposes is not to remove the option of early retirement but to transfer a part of the additional cost of the scheme to the employer, on a sliding scale which costs less as one approaches the age of 60. At the same time, the employer's contribution to the scheme will be slightly reduced.

Some local education authorities have announced that no early retirements will be allowed once the new arrangements come into effect from April 1 next year. The more thoughtful have realised that the reduction in their contribution will allow them to establish a fund, which could be used for appropriate cases. No doubt they will produce in due course conditions and age-limits for such schemes.

The difficulty for employers is that the contribution they will have to make affects not only the lump-sum, which would be unlikely to present a problem, but also the on-going pension for the rest of the retired teacher's life - this is index-linked. Independent schools might purchase the latter with a one-off lump sum, although this might prove too large for teachers at the lower end of the age-range.

To return to your question, then, it is likely that your prospects of being granted early retirement at 55 will be substantially reduced, although you may find that your employer will produce a scheme from which you may benefit.

This does not mean that you cannot resign your post at 55, find an alternative source of income for five years and then draw your teacher's pension at 60. I would not wish to insult your professionalism, but it may also mean that many disgruntled teachers, who have passed their "sell-by dates", will either struggle along for longer than is good for them or for the children they teach or become the subjects of disciplinary or competency procedures.

Many years ago, the late Lord Joseph observed that there ought to be "an honourable way out" for such teachers. These proposals appear to be slamming the door for many of them.


The TES Management Guide for Heads and Senior Staff, based on Archimedes' Helpline column, has now been published by Butterworth-Heinemann at Pounds 14.99, but is available to readers for Pounds 10.99. Tel: 0345 660 890

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