The Government seems certain to go ahead with its plans to raise the pension age for teachers from 60 to 65, despite fierce union opposition.
A paper issued last week by the Department for Work and Pensions suggests that, from 2006, all new entrants to teaching in England and Wales will have to work until 65 to qualify for a full pension.
Serving teachers will also be affected by the changes and only teachers who are now in their late 50s are likely to be exempt.
But teaching unions say that their members are already worn out by 60. They have vowed to fight the plans which they claim would damage children's education.
Latest statistics for England and Wales show that half of teachers retire before 60 and that only 500 a year stay on until 65.
A key task for the public-sector pension schemes review announced by the Government last week will be to decide how the higher retirement age will apply to existing staff. A recent Cabinet Office paper suggests that, if they retire at 60, they could lose up to 25 per cent of their pension.
The new document represents a hardening of the Government's position on public-sector retirement ages. It has dismayed those who criticised the proposals during consultations following December's pensions Green Paper.
Mike Beard, head of pensions at the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If teachers are forced to work until 65 they will be carried out in coffins."
The right to retire at 60 was introduced when the Teachers' Pension Scheme was set up in 1925.
Sue Johnson, head of pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The loss of this long-standing entitlement will not encourage people into teaching. The figures show that most teachers are desperate to get out early."
Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers general secretary, said: "We have got people staying in the profession now who should have gone when they were 58 or 59. Now they will have to wait until they are 65, which cannot be good for children's education."
Professor John Howson, a labour force expert, said: "It could make teaching less attractive if other people can qualify for private pensions at 60 although eventually it would mean fewer teachers were needed."
The Government is keen to reduce the huge costs incurred by pensions as life expectancy rises. As well as reviews of all public-service schemes, it has indicated that it will be harder to qualify for ill-health retirement (Analysis, page 22).
The local authority pensions committee has supported the changes, which were also strongly endorsed by the Institute of Directors.
"It would be difficult for the Government credibly to urge business to encourage working beyond 60 if the public sector is unwilling to undergo similar changes," an institute spokesman said.
The pensions crackdown is mirrored in countries such as France, where teachers have taken to the streets this month in protest against plans to make them work 42 instead of 37.5 years to qualify for a full state pension.