I have a particular admiration for teachers who avoid giving their ages, especially if they have wrinkles and rapidly-thinning hair. These are the type who overtake me as we cycle to school. A gentleman's agreement, I hasten to add, eventually ensures we arrive at the gates together.
Currently, at least two of my masters are over 70, but we have to remind ourselves that eventually even Mr Chips needed a successor. At present this is especially difficult in subjects such as CDT, food and nutrition and RE. They have not only become increasingly theoretical but also downgraded by a generation that believes in more "academic" subjects. Since the national curriculum and league tables were introduced, demand at GCSE has plummeted - with dire consequences for training quotas.
A dearth of replacement teachers for these subjects could be catastrophic. Imagine a world without engineering, building, and nutritional skills, especially at the everyday level in normal households; imagine too an England without spiritual values. Parents usually call the tune: even reminders that universities have to be physically built and students properly fed and spiritually nourished, sometimes meet a blank response.
In short, the general attitude taken towards CDT, food and nutrition and RE is now approaching something of a national scandal, and may be the cause of all our woes. Healthy family life depends on nurturing healthy minds, sound moral principles and a balanced diet.
If we further downgrade these in relation to academic subjects, we shall find it not only difficult to replace Mr Chips, but also further damage family life. On a more personal note, my day would not be the same without the occasional cycle race along the Wellingborough Road against older members of staff, and I certainly would not relish their replacement by younger veterans, for it would also ruin the children's treat.
Gerald J Smith is head of St Peter's Independent School, Northampton