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Two years ago, I was in my ninth year of deputy headship at a successful comprehensive in the south, with both feet on the merry-go-round of the dizzy quest for headship.

A combination of factors, including a brush with cancer, brought me to my knees and I left teaching for another, less pressured, job and a more balanced life.

It was a painful journey which involved months of doubt and self-blame. I figured that I just wasn't good enough for the job, that I had failed the key test, not of commitment and vision, but of endurance. I felt I no longer had anything to offer education and that my 25 years were worth nothing.

But two years later, my work in teacher recruitment and the experiences of friends around me lead me to believe that something is wrong with the health of our profession when so many of its valued and experienced troops are parachuting out.

I'm not talking about the incompetent, the dull or the whingers. Neither am I talking about the reluctant, the idlers or the time-servers. I am talking about dedicated, innovative, open-minded people who care about education - talented, experienced, wise heads of department, heads of year, deputy heads, second in department, subject co-ordinators and "bog-standard" foot soldiers.

A local education authority exit survey I conducted in July last year showed that 40 per cent of the nearly 300 respondents were leaving the classroom. Even those who remained positive about the job wrote copious amounts on the relentless workload, and questioned how long they could sustain their enthusiasm.

Many of us, it's true, are in our 40s and 50s. We might be tired, but I refuse to believe that such a wide group of people, whose performance is admired and respected, has nothing left to offer the profession.

When I work with teachers, children and students, I feel all my old talents resurging and know, from the evaluations I receive, that my years of knowledge and insight are valued and respected.

The Government concedes the future timebomb of the "middle-aged bulge" in the age profile of the profession, but what it needs to recognise is how many of us are choosing to bail out before retirement.

There was a great deal of press concern about poor morale at the now bankrupt Railtrack leading to a drain of key, experienced management and technical staff. Why no similar concern about teaching?

It's no accident that so many of us choose to stay in education-related environments. Though our energy might be dissipated by middle age and the relentless grind of initiatives, our passion for education is not. We miss seeing people grow and develop, we miss making a difference, passing on our experience to children and new staff alike. But the thought of going back to school full-time is not one we can contemplate. Perhaps we are clapped-out fuddy-duddies who can no longer hack it in the modern world. Our time has gone, we are the weakest link. Dead wood and dead beat. Goodbye!

I don't think so. And, if the Government thinks it will replace us with Fast Track: the Next Generation, it should look again at the drop-out rates of newly qualified teachers.

Helen Murray is a recruitment strategy manager in the south of England. She writes under a pseudonym

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