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Travels with a potrfolie

Teachers need to be flexible when dealing with different pupils. Perhaps they should apply the same approach to their retirement planning. Stephanie Northen reports

Many teachers in their early fifties might be somewhat cheered to learn of one of the Government's proposals to improve their pension scheme.

Backed by the unions, the idea is to help staff wind down naturally in their final years. Teachers who do not want to leave, or cannot afford to, may consider taking a less senior position or going part-time in the run-up to retirement - especially if they know their pension will not suffer unduly.

The Teachers' Pensions Scheme does offer the possibility of protecting pension benefits, but this is complicated. However, Inland Revenue rule changes will offer teachers more options, whatever the outcome of government negotiations.

Currently, 55 to 60-year-olds keen to take on a less onerous role, but in need of some money to tide them over until 60, cannot access their pension fund without financial penalties. Staff under 55 cannot access the money at all. From next year, however, teachers, whatever their age, will have the option of drawing some of their money, which would be actuarially reduced, while leaving the rest to build up inflation-proofed and without penalty until they are 60.

This change should help teachers towards a "managed" retirement, something that has much to recommend it, as Denis Balmer has found. Mr Balmer, 54, was a head of modern languages for 25 years, the last 20 at Hindley community high in Wigan. Taking a less senior position, he is now an assistant teacher at the same school. His decision to step down from his senior position at the age of 50 was motivated partly by ill-health, but also by a desire to improve his quality of life.

"I'm not being dramatic, but being head of languages is a very hard job.

One minute languages aren't compulsory, then they are, then they aren't again. I worked hard, maybe too hard."

His decision, made with the full support of his head, makes him a pioneer, a teacher easing himself towards retirement and preserving his energy and motivation on the way. "You're never too old to learn new tricks," he says, and is currently looking forward to working with junior pupils as part of the Government's drive to turn children on to languages at a younger age.

Mr Balmer plans to leave at around 57. "I'm not rich, for goodness sake, and I don't have an expensive lifestyle," he says. "I've never been driven by money or status and I didn't want to be in my dotage before I could pursue the other things I am interested in."

The thought of carrying on until 65 appals him. Before he stepped down three years ago, Mr Balmer and his wife, also a teacher, did some serious thinking about their financial future. Both have paid into the TPS throughout their careers. They spent a "harrowing" day with their financial adviser to organise and update their money arrangements. Now their mixture of investments is in one portfolio, which makes it easier.

They also decided to "drip-feed" some money from these investments to maintain their current lifestyle, including a taste for caravan holidays in France, without jeopardising their future.

Another important consideration was their 15-year-old daughter who may want to go to university - so they have set aside pound;30,000 for her undergraduate years.

Mr Balmer is all in favour of flexible retirement. "It helps people to wind down and yet their expertise - a massive pool of expertise - is not lost."

He is also in favour of getting financial advice. "You can't afford not to.

Teachers are bright, but some, like myself, tend to be financially naive."

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