SAGA, the holiday company for 50-somethings, has been brought in to stop older teachers leaving the profession prematurely.
With the General Teaching Council for England, it is funding a pound;60,000 research project into ways of keeping more mature members of staff from fleeing the profession before turning 60.
The GTCE fears that with 40 per cent of teachers due to retire over the next 15 years, an increasingly "inexperienced" profession will miss the accumulated knowledge of older teachers.
The initiative emerged as the House of Commons education select committee began an investigation into teacher retention and the Department for Education and Skills announced pound;2 million for improving the work-life balance of staff in 400 London schools.
However, older teachers already settled in London and the South-east are less likely to be put off by the region's high costs. New figures from the Joseph Rowntree Trust show teachers earn just over a quarter of what they need for a mortgage on an average four or five-room home in Camden (see box).
Nationally, though, teacher vacancies are down, and the tide could be turning with falling pupil rolls and rising trainee teacher numbers making the job market more competitive.
Early retirements fell dramatically in 1998-99, after the Government made them more costly for LEAs. But they have risen since, from 2,420 to 3,490 last year (2001-2) and more than 2,000 accepted cuts in pension benefits to escape the classroom early.
Saga has already spent pound;15,000 on a pilot project. It said many "old hands" could be kept on board by giving them new duties, for example mentoring newly-qualified colleagues.
The company is now funding a broader study of teachers aged 45 and over with Canterbury Christ Church University College. Spokesman Peter Bettley said: "This is an excellent opportunity to explore the issues that face many older people late in their careers and to address motivation and retention in the workplace."
Michael Head, co-author of the pilot research at Canterbury, said: "Older staff can get marginalised. There has been a lot of support for new entrants, heads of department, heads and deputies, but teachers who opt out before they reach their full pension have been left out."
Sarah Stephens, the GTCE's policy director, said: "With the refocusing of the 14 to 19 curriculum and moves towards a broader, more balanced primary curriculum, there may be lessons we can learn from these older teachers."
The council's stance on greater flexibility for older teachers came under fire from MPs this week. Members of the select committee challenged its refusal to make specific recommendations on pension changes that would enable more teachers to reduce their working hours as they near retirement without loss of benefits.
GTCE chairman John Beattie told MPs pay and conditions were the unions'
remit, but favoured the reduction of older teachers' classroom responsibilities.
To take part in the Saga study, email GTCstudy@cant.ac.uk
Hot data, 27
PROPERTY PRICE OF TEACHING
Area, Property price, Income needed, Teachers' pay as percentage ofincome needed
Kensington and Chelsea pound;425,475 pound;134,734, 20
Camden pound;314,740 pound;99,668, 27
Westminster pound;310,482 pound;98,319, 27.4
Hammersmith and Fulham pound;283,235 pound;89,691, 30
City of London pound;239,616 pound;75,879, 35.5
Islington pound;239,616 pound;75,878, 35.5
Richmond upon Thames pound;220,438 pound;69,805, 37.1
Wandsworth pound;213,467 pound;67,598, 39.9
Elmbridge pound;181,923 pound;57,609, 42.7
Mole Valley pound;179,903 pound;56,969, 43.2