A Liberal Democrat plan for older teachers to ease their way into retirement through part-time work is likely to fall foul of the teachers' pension scheme, unions have claimed.
Donald Gorrie, the party's education spokesman, has recommended that the problem of a rapidly ageing profession could be partly resolved if teachers nearing retirement were offered part-time work. Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, has been asked to consider the scheme.
Mr Gorrie said: "At present, the pension arrangements and traditional school structures make this unusual and unattractive. But judging by conversations with people who have returned to teaching part-time, they greatly enjoy a part-time classroom timetable, free from the responsibility as one of a school management team, or as a head of department, or from the pressure of a full timetable. This is not a solution to the recruitment problem, but it would benefit our schools and those teachers who changed to part-time teaching, instead of vegetating or dying early in retirement."
Scottish Office figures show almost two-thirds of teachers are over 40 and many will reach retiral age at the same time. Mr Gorrie says the recruitment rate for teachers will need to treble in a few years.
Ken Wimbor, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said it was a welcome suggestion but warned: "People are not going to get out because the employer cannot afford to let them go. Most teachers will have to work until they are 60."
There would also be a financial disincentive since part-timers would not be allowed to contribute to their pension scheme, while any teacher retiring because of ill-health is forbidden from returning.
David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the plan could lead to part-time teaching for entrants to the profession. "Older teachers could suffer financially, even if they were keen to do it professionally," Mr Eaglesham predicted.
A Scottish Office spokesman said Mr Wilson was considering the proposal. "The education department consults widely through a planning group with interested parties on future intakes of teachers. Education authorities, as employers, are our key informers on basing future projections and with their assistance the objective is to tailor output of teachers to meet demands," the spokesman said.