Dear Ted

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice -or offer some of your own

Like other secondary teachers of my age, I feel I am being forced out to make way for younger and cheaper staff. What can we do?

Ted says

It is tempting for schools to employ newly qualified teachers, as they are fresh, keen and cheaper than experienced staff. But employment protection legislation still applies and you cannot be forced out of your job simply because the school wants to hire someone at a lower rate.

The first thing to do is make an honest appraisal of the situation. Are you doing your job as well as you can? Does the school have legitimate complaints? Newly appointed heads often have different expectations from those of the previous incumbent. If you and your older colleagues are doing your job well, you should have nothing to fear, but if some teachers seem to have run out of energy and enthusiasm, a new broom may well want to start sweeping.

Should you and your colleagues believe it is a question of cash not competence, you should not allow yourselves to be pushed around. Involve your union, if you belong to one, because a good representative will have wide experience of this type of situation.

If the school insists some older teachers are incompetent, the case must be proved. Teachers have to be told why they are thought to be failing and given help and support to put matters right. If it is unashamedly a question of cash, some staff may be glad to take a golden handshake, go part-time, or negotiate what is sometimes called an "exit with dignity", while still youthful enough to enjoy the rest of their life.

You say

Make things happen

If this old-timer is worried that some dinosaur colleagues have been "brushed aside" for younger staff, it is time to consider the crucial question senior leaders in his or her school must be asking: "Are you worth the money we pay you?" No school can afford to lose good classroom practitioners.

The questioner sounds scarily like part of the dead wood, a time-server, hoping not to be squeezed out before being able to take early retirement or time off sick. My advice: stop hoping things won't change, and start making things happen for yourself. Take a proactive stance to delivering high-quality teaching, and support other staff to do the same. Run a lunchtime club, volunteer to help run a major school event - the musical, presentation evening or similar - take on some new challenge and show the young (cheap) newcomers and the senior staff you are worth every penny.

Robert Haines, deputy head, Hodge Hill school, Birmingham Is cost the only issue?

Conditions of employment vary across the UK. But no matter where the questioner works, he or she should seek advice from one of the teacher unions. They have experience in employment law, equal opportunities and anti-discrimination law. They will probably also have been involved in consultations about local conditions of service.

In Scotland, the local authorities, which are still responsible for all public sector education, act as "staffing brokers" and charge headteachers a uniform cost for teachers irrespective of their age and points on the pay scale. This removes any financial motive to discriminate in terms of age.

A tougher response would be to tell the questioner to ask her or himself if the reason for being "forced out" might be other than cost. The pattern of pupil choices might be obliging the headteacher to alter the subject profile of the staff. Is he or she in a subject area that is failing to attract pupils? Is the school roll falling (and rolls can fall because of situations beyond the school's control, such as birth rate)? This would require staff to be shed. Then there are issues relating to competence. Is the questioner's classroom performance satisfactory? Has he or she undertaken continuous professional development? Does he or she get on well with colleagues? Does he or she actively subscribe to the school's aims?

Alasdair Macdonald, Glasgow

Coming up: How do I say goodbye?

"I'm a senior member of staff at a struggling school who is secretly applying for jobs. How do I tell my head I want to leave?" What do readers think? Email We pay pound;40 for each answer used

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