There is a serious risk of sick teachers “dying in their classrooms” if they do not receive the support they need, a union conference has heard.
The warning at the NASUWT teaching union's annual gathering came from a teacher who is preparing to return to work weeks after undergoing triple heart bypass surgery.
Neil Jeffrey, from Oxford (pictured), told the conference in Belfast: “Last year could have been my last conference, because on 4 June last year I had a heart attack. I have been off sick since then.”
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The 49-year-old said that he had a triple heart bypass 10 weeks ago, and unbuttoned his shirt to show delegates the scar from the surgery.
The audience applauded him when he told them he had now recovered to the extent that he was able to return to work on 1 May.
He told them: “My point is, the longer teachers have to work, the greater the chance there is of them ending up with unwanted body art like this.
“We need to make sure we urge the union to monitor the incidence of serious illness amongst our colleagues, so that every single teacher who had a health event or incident, for want of a better word, gets the fabulous support they need, just as I did.
“If not, we run a serious risk not just of people working longer and retiring later, but of people retiring later and dying in their classrooms.”
He was speaking in a debate which saw the conference overwhelmingly pass a motion condemning age discrimination, and calling for the retirement age for teachers to be lowered.
Joanne Blakeman, from Torbay, told the conference she had worked as a secretary in an office before becoming a teacher, and has worked in a special school for 20 years.
She said: “The job is very physically demanding: lifting up and down off the floor, as well as the increase in the number of pupils needing more restraining. Regularly I’m hit, bit and have my hair pulled.
“Now, could I be a secretary at 67? Quite possibly. But could I do what I do now? What do you think?”
Sarah Wyatt, from Devon, aged 62, said she had lost her job as a result of nursing her son through illness, but now works at a sympathetic school.
Ms Wyatt told the conference she “does nothing to draw attention to myself to give anybody a reminder of my age”.
She described herself as “wounded but still teaching”, and added: “At the moment I feel there is a national cull for those of my age and circumstances, but I still have the ability to stand up and teach and care.”
The motion calls for the union to continue to campaign for governments to take action “to prevent older teachers being forced out of their jobs”, an end to discrimination against older teachers, and a reduction to the teachers’ retirement age.
Photo: Neil Jeffrey at the NASUWT conference. Photo by Simon Boothe