Don't boot out the old

22nd August 2014 at 01:00

Back at the end of term, the overriding emotion flooding the school was relief. I stuck my head through a colleague's door to wish her a happy summer, but on sight of me, she burst into tears. "I'm dreading coming back after the holidays," she said. "They've really got it in for me. It doesn't matter how hard I work, I just don't fit the bill."

In the last few days of term she had found out that a teacher qualified for only two years had been made head of her key stage - a role that hadn't even been mentioned to her. On top of this, history, a subject she was passionate about and had successfully led for years, was now in the hands of someone finishing their first year who had once said they liked history.

The reason is simple: my colleague is a classroom teacher in her fifties, on the upper pay scale but with no management responsibilities - and for this she has to be punished.

The way teachers are managed has changed drastically in the past few years. Expectations have shot up as headteachers look for ways to prove they are squeezing every penny's worth out of their staff. It may be pushing up standards (on paper at least) but compassionate it ain't. In a school like ours, where 22 is the new 40, an older classroom teacher who has the temerity to linger is in for a distinctly bumpy ride.

Fantastic with children but more reserved with adults, this teacher retreats when she feels threatened. She doesn't go bouncing up to the senior leadership team every time she has a bright idea. She's reluctant to speak up in meetings and her lessons don't buzz with technology.

The leaders don't notice that the children are desperate to be in her class because they feel safe and happy. They don't see that her pupils learn and retain reading skills more successfully than others because her experience allows her to adapt the phonics programmes to what she knows will work.

The leaders haven't spotted that the lessons they love are based on her ideas or that young teachers regularly go to her for advice. After years in the classroom, she can teach without a script and take assemblies at the drop of a hat. Inspectors have always praised her. She has good relationships with parents and her calm manner works wonders with children who struggle to control their behaviour.

But the bottom line is that she's expensive and past her sell-by date. Although changes to retirement age mean we will all be teaching until we're 102, the myth persists that young and energetic is the way to go. Some newly qualified teachers are brilliant (20 years down the line, if they're still in the classroom, they are likely to be even more brilliant) but all need help from more experienced hands. I hope that when today's bright young things are running schools of their own, they remember this and always value those good teachers who choose to hone their skills rather than climb the ladder.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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