Teaching life begins at 60

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Grandparent generation joins the classroom.

Once they reach 60, many teachers dream of retiring to the golf course or garden. But for grandmother Diana Blake, dropping on the mat with a free bus pass was her certificate to teach.

She is due to start her first full-time job at a primary school in Reading, Berkshire, bringing her years of wisdom and child-rearing experience to bear.

Mrs Blake is not alone. The General Teaching Council said that 12 over-60s qualified to teach in the past academic year.

The grandmother of six said she was drawn to the job after helping her five children through their school exams. After spending the last 14 years studying for GCSEs and A-levels and a part-time degree in English literature at Reading University, all while working as a teaching assistant, she then followed the graduate teacher programme, specialising in key stage 1, before qualifying last year.

"I had a case of empty nest syndrome," said Mrs Blake, a divorcee who left school with no qualifications. "I adore children. They are the best thing about the job."

She said she had no reservations about starting so late. The two part-time teaching jobs she has done have made her feel like she has finally found her true home.

While raising her children, Mrs Blake worked at Marks Spencer as a retail supervisor for 11 years. "I'm not sure I would have appreciated teaching as much if I had started younger," she said. "I don't have responsibilities at home now, so I can put everything into school."

Mrs Blake said new age discrimination laws which mean employers cannot hold an applicants' age against them provided extra motivation for her to start a new career.

Reactions to the new teacher have been varied. Some older colleagues are astonished by her enthusiasm and energy and slightly bemused by her desire to start a job with ever-growing pressures.

The pupils, she said, have no real concept of age, and accept her as she is. "Most people just say, 'Good on you'. Age is just a number after all," she said.

An attitude that runs in the family. Mrs Blake's late mother worked as a lollipop lady until she was 77 outside Woodley Church of England Primary in Reading. It is there that Mrs Blake has been working three days a week since September and where she soon starts full-time.

Until then, she is also working one and half days a week covering a teacher on maternity leave at Chiltern College School, an independent primary in nearby Caversham. Judy Halliday, Chiltern's headteacher, said: "I've never really think of Diana as being 60, but I do have to remind myself sometimes that she's only an NQT.

"She is extremely calm in a crisis. And from the way she interacts with children, her years of experience really come over."

60 and in my primary, Magazine, page 25.

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