Councils across Scotland are being inundated by requests from teachers wanting to quit the profession at the earliest opportunity, a TES Scotland survey has established.
Applications are only partly fuelled by a rush to beat a March 31 deadline , now extended to September 1, after which local authorities will have had to bear most of the cost of providing early pensions. Council's cutbacks have also stimulated interest in shedding jobs.
"We have had a lot more people wanting to go at Easter than anyone here can remember," Ken Wimbor, the Educational Institute of Scotland's assistant secretary, said. "The busy time is the summer and it has been at least as busy as that."
The massive increase in levels of interest in early retirement, which some see as further confirmation of teachers' determination not to stay in the job until they are 60, is most dramatically illustrated in Fife which has already received three times the number of applications it received for the whole of last year.
The council has had expressions of interest from 339 teachers, which is 40 per cent of those aged over 55 and 33 per cent of staff over 50. Fife expects 100 requests from teachers a year, of which around 60 are granted.
Alex McKay, the council's head of education, commented: "The effect of the pension changes on staff morale has been extremely severe, even more so than the effects of the difficult budget decisions we are having to take."
Although the Government has extended the deadline for introducing the new pension regulations to avoid disruption to pupils' education if teachers leave in the middle of the session, there has been no alteration to the substance of the changes. "It is a breathing space, no more," Ian Robertson, Stirling's head of educational planning and resources, states.
The national superannuation scheme currently bears the annual pension cost and lump sum payments if teachers retire early. Any enhancement is met by the employer except in the case of medical retirements which are paid for by the pensions agency.
In the case of a teacher going at the age of 50, councils would have to pay 43.9 per cent of the basic annual pension and 30.5 per cent of the lump sum.
Fife calculates that the new rules would have added #163;143, 628 to the authority's net costs by the fifth year of payments. Councils would have to continue to meet these costs beyond age 60 throughout the life of the teacher.
It is the unlikely eventuality of councils being able to contemplate such open-ended expenditure that has persuaded so many teachers to apply for what they believe are "last chance" packages. Our survey reveals that almost 2,000 have done so compared with 1,000 last year.
Councils are now turning their attention to the consequences for staffing if teachers are forced to stay in the job until the age of 60. Apart from the damage to morale, authorities face a haemorrhage within a short space of time. Moray officials calculate that a quarter of teachers will go in the next 10 years and another half in the following 10 years.
The pensions changes were prompted by concern from the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the public spending watchdog, over escalating superannuation costs. Only 23 per cent of teacher retirements in 1995-96 were classed as "normal".