Age-old issue

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
Why are women teachers getting smaller pensions than men? Susannah Kirkman investigates

Women teachers are leaving the profession with much smaller pensions than male colleagues, government statistics confirm.

Women retiring at 60 received an average pension of pound;6,122, compared with pound;10,700 for men, in the year ending March 31. Their lump sum retirement payments were also smaller - pound;18,351, against pound;32,106 for men.

The main reason for the disparity is that women teachers earn less. Male teachers in England and Wales retired on an average salary of pound;30,641 in the year ending March 31. The comparable figure for women was pound;24,933.

Sue Johnson, head of pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, fears many women who retire early may find pensions are too small to allow them a comfortable retirement. Career breaks also reduce women's pensions, as Department for Education and Skills figures show.

More than half of all teachers retire before they are 60, but women's length of service is generally shorter than men's. During the last financial year, only 75 women, compared with 155 men, managed to clock up the 40 years' service needed to get a pension worth half their final salary. Almost 60 per cent of women teachers who retired last year had taught for less than 25 years, compared with 26 per cent of men.

"If men have a family, they tend to get promoted, but the opposite seems to happen to women," says Sue Johnson.

Kerry George, head of salaries and pensions at the National Association of Head Teachers, says that job-shares are making it easier for women to continue in demanding posts, but these are still uncommon for headteachers. "When local education authorities or governors say no to a job-share at senior levels, these women are often lost to the profession or go part-time on a lower grade," she says. "If a job-share is offered, it is usually at a lower salary and grade because most governors and education authorities don't want to consider job-sharing for heads and deputies." (see Helpline, below) The unions are also concerned that women teachers, who make up the majority of part-time and supply staff, are sometimes unaware that they must "opt in" to th Teachers' Superannuation Scheme; full-timers are automatically included. It was not until 1995 that all part-timers were given the right to join the TSS.

The traditional attitude that priority should be given to a husband's pension at the expense of his wife's has also contributed to the problem, Sue Johnson believes. But women are becoming increasingly aware that they must have a decent pension too. Figures from the Prudential show that, over the past four years, women made up 71 per cent of those joining the Additional Voluntary Contributions scheme to top up their pensions.

* Last year 1,716 women retired early (21 per cent of all women retiring) while 1,740 took ill-health retirement. The comparable figures for men were 1,423 (28 per cent) and 1,283 (25 per cent).


Buying additional years of past service (past added years) To get the maximum pension under the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, you have to work full-time for 40 years. By buying added years you can get pension benefits of the missing years of service. The cost is based on your age and salary when you start to make payments, so the sooner you start, the less it costs.

Paying Additional Voluntary Contributions

The teachers' scheme is managed by the Prudential. You can put up to 9 per cent of your salary into AVCs with full tax relief; you can use them to boost benefits for family after your death.

Investing in a stakeholder pension

You are eligible if you earn less than pound;30,000 per annum. The advantages are that charges are slightly lower than for an AVC and you can contribute up to pound;3,600 a year. You can also take 25 per cent of your pension fund as a tax-free cash lump sum, although the Government is considering extending this benefit to AVCs as part of its review of them.

Applying for inclusion in the TSS if you are a part-time or supply teacher. Write for Form 261 from your employer or Teachers' Pensions.

Further information on AVCs is available at:"Your pension - a guide to the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, England and Wales", fromTeachers' Pensions, Mowden Hall, Darlington DL3 9EE. Tel. 01325 745745.

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