State school heads are quitting at 58

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Union says workload makes them retire early, while those at independents stay on to 60
Union says workload makes them retire early, while those at independents stay on to 60

Independent school leaders stay in the job longer than state school heads, figures out today indicate.

Britain's biggest heads' association said stress and workload were key reasons why more than 1,000 state school leaders were driven to retire earlier every year, sacrificing some of their pension.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), in Liverpool this weekend for its annual conference, surveyed 28,000 of its members.

It found that the average state school leader, including assistant heads and deputies, retired at 58, while counterparts in fee-charging schools stayed almost to 60.

More than a fifth of state school leaders said they would consider a new profession if their workload continued, a separate study found. Three out of four said they enjoyed the job's challenge.

Mick Brookes, NAHT general secretary, said there was much less pressure on private school leaders.

"They are accountable to a far more constructive inspection system, so they are not as vulnerable," he said. "They have to get fees in, but their budgets are bigger. They have as much to spend in a term as state school heads have in a year." Michael Spinney, chairman of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools, said any head's job was "utterly exhausting". But he added: "We don't have the same level of compliance, and so we have freedom to do our jobs. The heads in the maintained sector struggle against forces beyond their control."

But help is on its way: the National College for School Leadership is looking to expand a peer-support scheme in which newly appointed state school heads will have another head at the end of a phone for support. And the redesigned National Professional Qualification for Headship includes components on managing work-life balance and workload. At the NAHT's conference, members are being advised to choose which government initiatives to spend time on, and to oppose "no notice" Ofsted inspections and league tables. These cause "unacceptable stress for serving heads", a motion says.

The association will publish research suggesting that Ofsted inspections deter teachers from becoming heads and drive out existing heads.

It will also publish a Keele University study of 3,087 school leaders (see panel, left) showing that nine out of 10 work more than the legal maximum of 48 hours a week. Nearly half of heads work more than 60 hours. More than a third say their work leaves them too tired for sex, and 11 per cent say it contributed to marriage break-up.

A tenth said they had made serious errors because of pressure, illness and fatigue: 26 reported car accidents, including one who wrapped a car around the school flagpole late at night, having forgotten it was there. Others made mistakes relating to students, including one who had impetuously" expelled a pupil.

The study follows previous Keele University research, which indicated that headteachers show greater stress symptoms than business managers in comparable roles.


Seven out of 10 say workload makes them ill. They complain of:

- extreme fatigue (71%)

- sleeplessness (69%)

- irritability (54%)

- headaches or migraines (48%)

- lack of concentration (40%)

- anxiety or panic attacks (33%)

- loss of sex drive (28%)

- unpredictable crying (25%)

- smoking or drinking more (21%)

- persistent minor ailments (21%)

- clinical depression (12%).

Source: Keele University study.

... And it's not just headteachers who need advice about retirement and pensions

Nigel Callaghan, senior pensions analyst at financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown, offers advice to school staff considering early retirement.

The basics

If you were a member of the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS) before 2007, and have been teaching for 40 years, you will receive a pension of two-thirds of your final salary at 60. If you joined after this date, you will receive the same amount at 65. This will be increased annually to counter the effect of inflation, and will continue to pay your partner a pension should you die before them. In return, you will pay 6.4 per cent of your pay into the scheme. But this is money well spent - it's effectively deferred pay. Details about your pension - including how much you have paid in and an estimate of what it will pay out - can be found at:

Buying extra pension

By paying a top-up into your pension each month, you can "buy" extra income of up to pound;5,000 a year for your retirement. The cost depends on how close you are to retiring. If you started making payments at 25, it would cost you roughly an extra pound;70 a month paid over a 10-year period. But if you started at 45, you'd need to pay in about an extra pound;150 a month to buy the same amount.

The upside of buying extra pension? It's a good way to use a windfall or inheritance, or to compensate for career breaks.

You should contact the Teachers' Pension Scheme four months before you want to retire to ensure the pension payments start on time.

Personal pensions

If you have already paid the maximum into your teachers' pension, another option is to start a personal pension, such as a stakeholder pension or self-invested personal pension (Sipp). You can decide how much to contribute and when to start taking an income from it. Many companies provide these, and you can find out details from the Financial Services Authority's website (

The downside is that such an investment can be affected by changes in the stock market. Your teachers' pension has more security.

Early and phased retirement

Teachers can retire after 55, but going before your normal retirement age (60 or 65) will decrease your pension income as the payments have to be spread over a longer period.

Take Dawn, 55, a modern languages teacher. She has been in the job for 30 years and is on a salary of pound;30,000. If she retired now, she would receive pound;8,696 a year, plus a one-off cash lump sum of pound;26,088. But if she waited until she was 60, she would receive pound;13,125 a year, plus a lump sum of pound;39,375, giving her plenty of spending money.

A newer possibility is phased retirement. This was introduced in January 2007. It enables anyone older than 55 to carry on working while accessing some of their pension. If you want to cut down your hours but don't want to live on a part-time salary, this can be convenient.

But if you opt for phased retirement well before your normal retirement date, you will receive a reduced pension in the long run.

TES readers can receive a free copy of 'The Pocket Guide to Surviving Retirement' (RRP pound;4.95) by phoning 0845 345 0800.

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