Burnt-out teachers over the age of 55 will be able to wind down to half their hours in the run-up to retirement as part of any post-McCrone deal on pay and conditions. Unions have advocated such a scheme for some time and are now close to achieving an aim that would benefit thousands of ageing teachers who no longer have the stamina and drive to face the daily rigours of the classroom.
A McCrone implementation subgroup on pay and grading has backed outline plans on semi-retirement contracts that could also pave the way for opportunities for new recruits at the other end of the profession. But like all other aspects, the scheme depends on agreement in the tripartite talks that were set to resume yesterday (Thursday).
Major financial stumbling blocks remain to be resolved over the coming week after the Educational Institute of Scotland warned ministers not to jeopardise large areas of agreement by failing to provide the cash.
It is believed that Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, was pressing for a three-year deal, not one for two years, in a bid to take teacher pay talks out of the public gaze until after the next Holyrood elections. Ronnie Smith, the EIS's general secretary, however, fired a warning shot just before the Christmas break by insisting that ministers could not walk away from a fully funded deal.
"Until this week negotiations have been held on a constructive basis. There are substantial areas of agreement on hours of work, on the importance of continuing professional development to the work of schools and of individual teachers, on the need to reward teachers who choose to remain in the classroom, and on significant levels of pay for all teachers," Mr Smith said.
He added: "It would be a tragedy for education, and for the teaching profession, if this opportunity were to be undermined by the apparent failure of the Scottish Executive to agree the money needed to fund the package which ha been starting to emerge from a genuine process of negotiation."
The winding-down scheme is one agreed area, although the Scottish Public Pensions Agency and the future Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers are to carry out further work.
The subgroup proposes that employers grant special part-time contracts, set at half the existing hours, to teachers who meet particular criteria. Each year served under the part-time contract would count as one full year towards pension and final pensionable salary would be based on the salary teachers received before they took up the wind-down contract. It would then be revalued using the retail price index at the actual retirement date.
Ralph Garden, chief executive of the pensions agency, explains in a paper for the group that teachers granted the part-time contract would be on at least 50 per cent of previous salaries. To qualify, they would have to be at least 55 with a minimum of 25 years' service, although Mr Garden acknowledges that this could be seen as discriminating against women. The scheme could be fine-tuned to allow for career breaks.
The Executive would pump in an unspecified sum to cover the extra costs, which could yet include a "significant number" of early retirements. "It is envisaged that a central fund with an agreed amount total of resources be made available for an agreed period and opened annually to bids from employers," Mr Garden says.
Estimates of how the scheme would work show that early retirement for a non-promoted teacher on pound;24,000 a year would cost a central fund pound;35,000. That would rise to pound;80,000 with five years' enhancement. A promoted teacher on pound;32,000 would cost the fund pound;47,000, rising to pound;105,000 with five years' enhancement. Winding down a teacher on pound;32,000 to a half-time post at a pound;24,000 full-time equivalent would only cost the fund pound;4,000.
Existing local authority retirement plans would also continue.