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Hidden losses

Official figures indicate early retirements are at a historic low, but, asks John Howson, do they tell us the real story?

DO the early retirement figures accurately reflect the number of experienced teachers quitting the profession?

Anecdotal evidence suggests disillusioned senior staff may be leaving in droves, but the official number retiring early is still low compared to previous years.

Pensionable early retirement falls into two categories: premature and ill health. The introduction of tighter conditions for both in 1997 led to a surge in retirements. The total that year was also inflated by the re-organisation of local government in parts of England.

By 1998, the new restrictions meant that early retirements dropped below 5,000 for the first time since the late 1970s. In 1999, there was a 5 per cent rise on the previous year. This year may well see a further increase as some heads leave early rather than have to introduce performane pay.

One important question is: "Do these figures reveal the whole picture on retirement?"

Many teachers in their 50s may be leaving, even without a pension - particularly in the South. Where job opportunities abound, those in the fortunate position of having paid off their mortgage and seen their own children leave home can quit the profession for less stressful work without anyone knowing.

Perhaps we should be monitoring the number of teachers over 45 joining the pool of inactive teachers, not just those drawing their pension early.

Across England there is no obvious pattern to early retirement. In London, the number of premature retirements in 1998 was similar to the number in 1980. Elsewhere, there are relatively small numbers of premature retirements in urban areas but larger numbers in the remaining "shire" counties.

John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys. His e-mail is

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