TIGHTENING up the pension rules has done the trick. Retirements other than on the grounds of age fell sharply from a record 15,060 in 1997-98 to just 4,970 in 1998-99. They are now at their lowest levels for more than a decade, and possibly longer.
Since April 1997, to qualify for a pension on grounds of ill-health, a teacher has to be regarded as permanently unfit to teach. This much stricter qualification has cut ill-health retirement to less than half the level of recent years. Not surprisingly, most of these were granted to teachers in their late 40s and early 50s.
Even more dramatic has been the reduction in premature retirements - down from a peak of 12,600 in 1997-98 to just 2,510 in 1998-99.
As schools and education autorities now face meeting the costs of premature retirement, there is every incentive for them to find alternative arrangements, rather than simply grant an individual early retirement.
It is too early to say whether the drop in retirements is
keeping more teachers in the profession. However, the number in service rose by only around 5,500 between January 1998 and January 1999, so some teachers may now be choosing to leave without an entitlement to a pension. Others are making use of the new "step-down" arrangements that permit senior staff to return to classroom teaching while preserving their existing pension rights.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. E-mail: Int.firstname.lastname@example.org
GRAPH HOW THE ESCAPE ROUTE HAS BEEN BLOCKED OFF Teacher retirements - England and Wales, 1989-1999