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Sickness forces out one in four

MORE THAN one in four teachers retire because of ill health and the trend is increasing, the Scottish Pensions Agency has confirmed. The figures will reinforce fears over the heavy burden on public sector pensions, highlighted last week by Alan Milburn, Treasury Chief Secretary.

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said it was contributing to the three-month-old inquiry into occupational pensions and will report on appropriate action north of the border.

The high percentage of retirements linked to ill health is already influencing pension chiefs who are investigating options for teachers to retire early without draining Government funds. Union leaders warned about the risks of teacher poverty in later years after plans were announced last week.

Figures from the Scottish teachers' superannuation scheme show the overall number of early retirements has slumped to a five-year low after ministers placed the extra costs on local authorities.

In the year ending last March, 1,455 teachers retired. Of these, 405 - 28 per cent of the total - left claiming ill health. The previous year 3,248 teachers retired before regulations were tightened. A total of 435 - 13 per cent - took sickness retirement. In 1994-95, 389 teachers out of 1,897 - 20 per cent - left early because of ill health.

David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said changes two years ago had made it extremely difficult for teachers to retire early.

Only "permanently incapable" staff are now allowed to go because of their health. They are deemed by doctors to be incapable of ever returning to the classroom.

Mr Eaglesham said there was undoubted stress on teachers and called on ministers to devise more imaginative solutions to allow the profession to cope.

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