The most recent figures on the age of the teaching force reveal that in March 1999 more than one in three teachers were in their 40s while one in five teachers were over 50. By contrast, only 10 per cent of male teachers and just over 20 per cent of female teachers were in their 20s. However, this percentage is set to rise over the next few years as older teachers leave the profession. The exact rate of increase will undoubtedly be affected by how many teachers stay in the profession until they are 60. Although the early retirement route has been effectively closed down, this does not prevent teachers leaving of their own free will.
Over the past 10 years there has been a big drop in the percentage of teachers in their 30s. Overall, less than a quarter of teachers now are in their 30s and for women teaching in primaryschools the figure is less than one in five. This change is particularly significant where it impacts on the number of deputy heads in primary schools between the ages of 35 and 44. In March 1999 there were only just over 5,000 of these. As this group provides the main source of new headteachers, this is a cause for concern.
In an average year about 2,000 primary schools are looking to appoint a new head. About 1,500 of these posts are filled from the ranks of the deputy heads, with the remainder filled by existing heads changing schools. Thus, with the current age profile of the teaching profession, appointing new heads in primary schools will increasingly mean either persuading the over-45s to take on a headship for the first time or training more teachers in their early 30s for the role.