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Take a year off, boss

Heads in danger of burn-out are being offered time working abroad to reinvigorate their careers. Jonathan Milne reports

In the 1960s they turned on, tuned in and dropped out. Now the babyboomers are again causing education authorities furrowed brows, as headteachers in their sixties decide they are sick of donning jackets and ties and turning up to the office each day.

As long as schools are not asked to fund their latter-life "gap years", some councils are thinking they can give teachers a year or two of unpaid leave without destabilising the school's development.

New guidance from the National College for School Leadership suggests offering heads opportunities outside the school to help retain them. Lisa Baldwin, the school workforce adviser for Hillingdon council in London, has been working with Ian Draper, director of consultancy Ethical Training, to encourage school boards to discuss options such as sabbaticals, travel or flexi-time with their heads.

"This is so they can continue to work proactively, and perhaps longer,"

said Ms Baldwin. "We cannot flog them to death in the final years of their careers so they leave exhausted at 60."

Headteacher statistics make grim reading for governors. At the start of this year, according to the Department for Education and Skills, a record 650 schools were without a head.

One school that has supported its head taking time out is Harlands primary in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. The governors have encouraged Helen Thorne, 57, to spend next term travelling the world with her husband before returning to work.

"My generation has never really had the means to be that flexible before,"

she says. "We were qualified, into mortgages and having babies before we even knew there was a big world out there."

The Department for Trade and Industry contributes nearly pound;2 million a year to sending school leaders to Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda and Cambodia under the auspices of VSO, the international volunteering organisation. Last week the department agreed to fund a new pilot programme to send headteachers to Ethiopia.

Mr Draper, a former deputy head, said many heads were able to claim their full teaching pension at 60, and saw little reason to stay for another five or 10 years.

"We do run the risk that there are people who will take time out, get a taste for it and go," he says. "But we've got to take a few risks. A lot of people in their 50s are feeling a bit tired, a bit jaded."

Mr Draper was in Ethiopia last month visiting two primary heads from Leicester on placements.

Hugh Hanratty, 61, and his wife Carol, 54, are working with 45 schools around the village of Buee after a previous placement training teachers in Gambia.

"We got to the stage where we fancied a change, doing something useful,"

said Mr Hanratty. "It gave us a chance to live as a local rather than as a tourist."

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