Fund early retirals plea

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Glasgow's retirement offer to over-55s comes as directors seek support for `refresh' packages

The scottish Government is facing mounting pressure from education leaders to fund a "teacher-refresh" package which would allow councils to offer early retirement deals.

Glasgow, Scotland's largest authority, this week made an early retirement offer to all teachers aged 55-plus, fuelling speculation that other authorities may follow.

A letter to teachers said they could be released from January, but warned that anyone taking early retirement with an enhanced pension - the maximum on offer is three years - would not be eligible for supply work in Glasgow.

A spokeswoman for the council said the move was part of a cost-saving exercise and was unlikely to create jobs for new teachers.

With growing numbers of newly-qualified teachers unable to find work and most education budgets facing cuts of 2 to 4 per cent, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland is calling for the Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, to step in and provide Government assistance to allow older teachers to leave the profession early and create space for new teachers to come in.

John Stodter, ADES general secretary, said his organisation had raised the issue in discussions with Scottish Government officials about local government finances.

A teacher-refresh scheme could potentially ease the employment difficulties of post-probationers - one of the Government's thorniest problems.

"It would help the workforce, it would help local government and it would help the Government in terms of teacher numbers," he said.

Irene Matier, president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, calculated such a scheme would initially save councils money by replacing expensive staff with less expensive staff and would be cost neutral for 15 years; thereafter, it would cost more as these entrants climbed up the salary scale.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said there were currently no plans to fund authorities' early retirement packages.

"The employment of teachers is a matter for local authorities. Where necessary, some councils may wish to refresh their teacher workforce and we would welcome such programmes if they are shown to work well," she said.

But the Government was reviewing "the means by which local authorities may be able to release teachers approaching retirement age", along with the other 11 recommendations of the Teacher Employment Working Group, which reported last October, she added.

With no national funding available to date, only two or three councils are currently hoping to offer early retirement packages; most would find the exercise too expensive without additional help, said Mr Stodter.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said the early retirement offer for teachers was part of a "trawl" to gauge the level of interest.

"Letters have gone out but we have no guarantees of funding at the moment," she said.

She added that each successful application would have to be supported by a business case - in other words, there would have to be a financial saving to the council.

Hugh Donnelly, Glasgow area secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland, said that given the high levels of probationer unemployment this year, it might be necessary to seek additional Government funding not only for early retirements, but also for more directly-funded probationer posts.

"The probationer scheme, as it is at the moment, is fit for purpose when we have an expanding service, but not in a contracting service," said Mr Donnelly.

It was by no means certain, he added, how many teachers aged 55-plus could afford to apply for early retirement because the recession was having such a widespread impact on families.

Mr Donnelly cited the case of one teacher, whose two sons had done postgraduate studies, found good jobs, and then been made redundant in their early 30s, forcing them both to return home.

School Leaders Scotland said it had been urging the Government to provide funding to ease some older teachers out of the profession and new teachers in.

Ken Cunningham, SLS general secretary, said secondary heads had also called for additional teachers to be employed on developing A Curriculum for Excellence.

However, its pleas had proved fruitless so far, with Government insisting that such measures were devolved to local authority level under the concordat.

A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said it had had no discussions with the Government on funding for early retirement packages for teachers, but would be prepared to consider anything that allowed the profession to be refreshed.

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