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Oldies over-worked, young have no work

The sun shone, and the coastal path snaking from Pittenweem to St Monans in Fife was an absolute joy. Not just the beautiful sea, sparkling and spraying lace over the rocks, or the wild flowers interweaving with the first of the blackberries - but I was with old friends. Old in that I have known them for many a year, and old in that we have grey hair and specs and no longer climb Munros.

I recalled cycling through the villages several years ago, and mused that I couldn't do it any more. "I can," snorted my pal (who cycles everywhere), adding, "but with less aplomb."

Three of the group are retired, and the rest of us are torn between downright jealousy and a sneaking feeling that we shouldn't be wishing away these precious last few years.

But there is another side to it. The one who cycles everywhere got early retirement from teaching when she was 50, took her enhanced pension and then worked another 10 very happy years part-time in a job which used her skills. She was quite shocked that that option is not open to us any more.

Teaching, she proclaimed, takes up so much energy that most teachers can't possibly be coping properly by the time they hit 60.

And she is absolutely right. We are exhausted by the time we retire, thankful that our retirement age is still 60 and not 65. B amp; Q might be a great place for oldies to work, but schools aren't.

The biggest tragedy faces teachers who were magnificent in their prime, stumbling through the last few hazy years, not coping with the difficult classes. These are teachers who could once silence an entire assembly with one look.

I am not saying that all teachers are too knackered to last out until 60: I am saying that quite a few of us are, and that we shouldn't have to struggle against the tide. I accept that other professions feel tired too, but teaching is not any job. An inadequate teacher can do incredible damage to a child's education and, in a career structure with so many younger teachers not finding work, it seems crazy not to offer a way out to older teachers who feel overly burdened.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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