'I even offered to work for less money. They said that it couldn't be done';Ageism

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
Debbie Artley, 42, qualified as a teacher in 1995, after four years of study. "I was ecstatic when I graduated," she says. "I'd always wanted to be a teacher, and my husband encouraged me. He looked on it as a long-term investment."

Equipped with a BEd with honours in primary maths, Mrs Artley began applying for jobs. But most of the schools she wrote to didn't even reply. "I just didn't get anything," she says. "Not even a sorry, but..."

Undeterred, this mother of three sons aged 17, 15 and 13 began working as a supply teacher. She taught for five terms in a Barnsley primary school on temporary contracts, during which time she was passed over for three permanent jobs in the school.

"Part of it is that I'm 42 and they think I'm perhaps a bit long in the tooth," she says. "But the Local Management of Schools policy has forced heads to be ageist. I'm not the only mature teacher who can't get work."

Debbie Artley's local authority - Barnsley - now has her at the top of the pay scale, on level nine. Even when she was newly-qualified they put her on level six, because of the ages of her children. Although not very experienced, she's expensive. "I have offered to work for less but they won't reduce it," she says. "One head said he couldn't negotiate an individual wage, it would cause chaos."

Another admitted to her that she felt she was depriving children by not employing older staff. "But they have to run it as a business," she says.

Being considered good enough to take on for a year or more - but not to be offered a permanent job - is particularly painful. Currently teaching Years 5 and 6 on another temporary contract, Debbie Artley has learned to keep her distance in the staffroom. "I keep a bit of a barrier up so I don't get as hurt as I did when I left the first school, after five terms," she says. "I was really upset by that. The head did come and speak to me afterwards, but there's not a lot you can say."

She continues to apply for permanent jobs and describes herself as "living in hope".

"I think I'm a good teacher. I get good feedback from parents, and I certainly build up a good relationship with the children. I sometimes wish they did the interviewing."

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