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Lives turned upside down

A three-page special report by Elaine Williams on how new pension rules might wreck prospects for early retirement. CASE STUDIES. David Higgins is headteacher of Chace Community School, Enfield. He is 59 years old with 37 years' service.

David Higgins has already written to his local authority requesting early retirement for August. He had wanted to leave last year, but decided to stay on as the school is facing an OFSTED inspection in the spring.

He said: "I did ask the authority if I could leave this Easter in the hope that the inspection would be over and a new head could take over the action plan. Now OFSTED isn't coming until April and I don't want to leave the school at such a stressful time. If I had left last year I would have got three years' enhancement.

"I have been a relatively successful head in a popular school but I am tired and I believe my performance is diminishing quite rapidly. I work between 50 and 70 hours per week and I am visiting my doctor more than in the past. I find it hard to motivate myself to come to school in the morning. "For the Government to change the ground rules in this way so late in my career feels like a slap in the face. I will now have to consider taking early retirement with my pension and lump sum reduced, not to mention the loss of enhancement. "

If Mr Higgins is granted early retirement his LEA will have to contribute Pounds 3,000 to his lump sum and Pounds 1,500 to his annual pension.

Mick Cook is a PE teacher at Kingsmead Comprehensive School, Enfield. He is 51 years old with 29 years' service.

Mick Cook had envisaged retiring at the age of 55 and had taken out insurances to top up his pension.

He said: "I didn't feel for my health's sake, doing a job like mine, that I should go beyond 55. I have been planning this for six or seven years. Now it seems I have the choice of going at Easter (under the present pension arrangements) or staying on until 60 and I can't imagine myself running around like this and jumping over boxes at 60. I think I'm going to have to go now.

"I don't want to because I had all sorts of plans for the school and taking children through. We've got some new sports buildings coming along and I'll miss out on that. I am not unhappy or stressed but I don't think I have a choice. This has stopped me in my tracks. It is one of the biggest things that has hit teachers for years."

David Teall is headteacher of Battle Abbey School, a 2-18 independent school near Hastings. He is 49 and has been at the school for 16 years.

David Teall and his wife Pat, who is head of Battle Abbey's preparatory school and is also aged 49, had planned to retire in December 1997.

They have handed in their resignation, their posts have been advertised and shortlisted candidates are being interviewed this week. Letters have been sent out to parents. Their decision is irrevocable, but they are now faced with the prospect of the school being unable to pay the cost of their joint early retirement which would be in the region of Pounds 20,000 towards the lump sum and Pounds 10,000 a year towards the pension.

Mr Teall said: "If we live until we are 80 that would cost the school Pounds 300,000 which is just an impossibility. No school can mortgage itself like that. "

I called the Teachers' Pensions Agency seven days ago (just days before the Government released its proposals) to make sure of my pension and they told me then that if my governors signed the form my pension was guaranteed.

"We have realised our investments in ways that are irrevocable. I now stand a very real chance of being without a job and without an income.

"My governors made this decision in June. All heads in the independent sector are on at least two terms' notice.

"We have worked extremely hard. We have taken over two other schools in the past seven years and the school is by far and away the strongest in the area - an appropriate stage to pass the headship on to somebody else. "We have acted in good faith and now our entire lives have been turned upside down. A law should not change decisions that have been properly made under current law."

Brian Ward is head of careers and teaches business studies at Garforth Community College, Leeds. He will be 50 in April with 29 years' service.

Brian Ward had planned to go in July to help his wife who runs a pharmacy business. He said: "We ask our pupils to action plan and I had been planning my career. This has knocked my plans sky-high. I cannot go at the end of March because I will not be 50.

"I have given of my best physically and mentally. I didn't want to look back at 60 and think that I had been in school all my life. The Government is now saying that older teachers are the backbone of schools but that's nonsense. Younger teachers have more energy, more vitality.

"If it comes to it I'll do my bit and carry on but I dread to think what I'll be like in seven years' time. The Government have got it all wrong and I think there will be a big backlash. Those in their 40s have been planning 10 years ahead but now they may not be allowed to go. Everybody's talking about it."

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