Fed up with endless tick lists and forms? Growing numbers of staff are leaving it all behind to concentrate on what they love best: classroom teaching. Jean Johnson, a Leicestershire primary teacher, is one of the many who have left a full-time job and moved to supply work.
"After 24 years, the constant changes in government initiatives have finally taken their toll," says Mrs Johnson. "The three main reasons for my leaving full-time teaching are the pressures of work, becoming frustrated that I am required to do valueless things which do not help the children learn or me to teach, and the feeling of no longer being trusted to use my professional judgment.
"Assessment and record-keeping are a nightmare. I am forced to quantify the unquantifiable at times and I cannot do it. Inspections are another pressure; I have felt less confident about whether I am doing the right thing than I was at the beginning of my teaching career."
Mrs Johnson aims to work a three-day week. She will be eligible for a reduced pension next year, when she is 55.
There are no official figures on the number of full-time teachers who have taken up supply work, but the unions report a steady increase in the number of queries from members who are considering taking the plunge.
Marion Bird, deputy head of pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says the reduced pension option has become more popular since actuarially reduced benefits (ARBs) - a pension that is reduced because it can be taken when you are 55 - were introduced in April 2000. The number of teachers taking this route has soared from 861 in 2000-01 to 3,174 in 2002-03. "People are flocking to leave early despite our warnings of the drastic effects it will have on their pensions," says Ms Bird.
"Some feel that they want to take back control of their lives and they feel that leaving early with a reduced pension is the only way to do it," says Mike Beard , head of pensions at the National Association of Head Teachers.
Anyone who starts drawing their pension at 55 faces a 25 per cent cut , plus a 15 per cent reduction in their tax-free lump sum,which could spell a penurious old age, the unions say. "In their fifties and sixties, teachers can top up their pensions with supply work, but they won't want to carry on into their seventies," warns Ms Bird. She says the main financial problems are faced when people are no longer able to maintain their own homes but have to pay someone else to do it for them.
The ATL advises teachers to delay collecting their pensions for as long as possible, so that they don't lose out. Someone who starts receiving payments at 58, for example, would only lose 12 per cent of their annual benefits.
However, the huge cut to her pension has not deterred Mrs Johnson. "It is a big concern how I will manage, but I'm not prepared to work for another five years," she explains. "I am feeling far more relaxed that I can get down to the nitty-gritty of teaching again. Without the meetings, unnecessary paper work, endless records and planning for someone else's eyes, I am hoping to concentrate on giving children an exciting learning experience."
After an enjoyable cross-curricular day recently, Mrs Johnson found she still had the time and energy to display the children's work on the wall as she no longer has to attend a staff meeting. But she is also trying to boost her income by saving for a second supplementary pension. She has taken the "elected further employment" option, which means that she can continue to pay 6 per cent of her supply earnings towards another teaching pension.
Teachers who have retired with a reduced pension can also do as much supply work as they like without it affecting their pension benefits.
Mrs Johnson is convinced she has made the right decision. "For peace of mind and a less stressed life, and therefore, maybe, a longer one, I have decided it will be worth it."
* If you want to contribute to a second pension, fill in Forms 261 and EFE, both available from Teachers' Pensions.Part-time supply work does not automatically count towards a pension, so indicate that you wish to contribute.
* If you work for a supply agency, you will generally not be able to contribute to the scheme, as the agencies are not prepared to pay the employers' contributions. The only exceptions are two agencies which were set up in partnership with local education authorities that act as the employers.
* To qualify for a second pension as a supply teacher, you must work for a total of at least 365 days, but employment over several calendar years can count towards this, to take account of erratic working patterns.
* As a supply teacher, you will be credited with more service days than you have actually worked, as your actual salary will be compared to that of a full-time teacher over the same period.
* If you are considering taking your pension early, make sure you get expert advice from your union or Teachers' Pensions on 01325 745746 or www.teacherspensions.co.uk.