A grey area, this retirement malarkey

21st March 2008 at 00:00

As we are so often reminded, none of us is getting any younger. And in FE we seem to be tripping down the primrose path even more rapidly than elsewhere.

The oft-repeated figure is that half the workforce will reach retirement age within the next 10 years. If that's it - shake of the hand, gold watch (does anyone actually get a gold watch any more?) and out the door - it's a heck of a lot of expertise to lose in one go.

Interestingly, we tend to have rather mixed feelings about the abilities of the over-60s. At 66, Ming Campbell's leadership of the Liberal Democrats was deemed to be untenable because he was past it. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Republicans are proudly proclaiming John McCain, aged 71, as their saviour-of-the-nation-elect because of his experience, authority and steadfastness.

But do people actually change much just because another year has gone by? Someone who's been a pillock all his life doesn't magically take on the mantle of "wise man" just because he's passed the age of 60. He's still likely to be a pillock, only now he's a pillock with a slightly worse short-term memory.

On the other hand - to return to the original thread - a good teacher doesn't forget all that makes him or her good just because that alluring letter from Teachers' Pension has dropped through the letterbox.

Some teachers are finished - had enough, burnt out - well before they are 55. Others are still cheerfully climbing from their beds and heading off for the classroom 10 years later.

What's called for is flexibility. The Government has recognised this by bringing in phased retirement - allowing teachers to take some of their pension while working fewer hours. Employers generally are sympathetic in principle, but will they be in practice?

A study by London Metropolitan University and the market researchers BMRB suggests that more than half of secondary school heads are wary about such arrangements, pointing to cost and logistical difficulties, among other factors. Let's hope that FE - with its long tradition of part-time working and employment flexibility - can take a more enlightened view.

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