Older teachers bring experience, wisdom and resilience, says Katie Waldegrave, and there are many ways in which schools can tempt them into the classroom
Four years ago Nicky Morgan commissioned a report into the effect of increasing retirement ages on teachers. It was something of a relief, last week, to read the resulting Department for Education report, Teachers working longer, which concludes that there are no observable “negative impacts” in students’ educational attainment linked to the ageing of their teachers.
Two years ago, I co-founded Now Teach with ex-Financial Times journalist Lucy Kellaway. Kellaway, who was 57 at the time, had wanted to become a teacher, but nobody seemed to be actively recruiting people of her age. In fact, in 2015, only 76 people over the age of 55 had trained to teach. Since then, Now Teach has launched 120 older professionals (average age 55) into careers as teachers.
This is set to become an increasing trend. People are living longer and working patterns are changing. If we are going to be working for 60 years and more, then we have to think more carefully about the pattern of a career over a lifetime.
Add to this the stark warnings about the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in the recent NFER report, and it is evident schools need to be both retaining good teachers for longer, and encouraging older people into the profession. So what can schools do?
The need for more flexible working options was one issue raised by the DfE report. Other professions manage job sharing and part-time working far more systematically than teaching does at present. For example, 42% of UK women work part-time, but the figure for female teachers is 25%.
In recognition of the fact that our trainees need some flexibility, Now Teach offers older professionals the opportunity to train on four days a week. Of course, the majority of older teachers, now and in the future, will be those who have been in the profession for most of their lives — but they, too, ought to be offered flexibility, and schools need support in managing the timetabling changes this would require.
An ethos of valuing experience needs to be instilled in schools
It is also important for school leaders to think carefully about how to effectively utilise the skills and knowledge of very experienced staff who have chosen not to go into management. Our trainees are often very clear that they do not want to pursue leadership positions; they are changing career to be in the classroom. Lots of longer-serving teachers make the same decision, and often they have many more years of experience in school than the middle and senior leaders they are working under. An ethos of valuing that experience needs to be instilled in schools — as the DfE report noted, mentorship can run both ways.
Schools who respect their older staff will benefit hugely: research suggests that as we get older, we get better at handling stress and become more resilient.
And for the young people in our schools, seeing a diverse staff helps them learn about how to interact with people of different backgrounds and experiences, including those who are substantially older than them.
Older staff can draw on their life experience and offer students careers and pastoral advice that younger staff might not be able to. Our trainees are bringing into their schools an awareness of the workplace, and direct links to it, which are already making a difference for the students they teach. For example, last week one of our teachers — former journalist Alastair Wanklyn — was behind an impressive campaign that saw hundreds of children petitioning the Football Association to pay Wembley workers the living wage.
There are many moving parts to the solution to the current problems in teacher recruitment and retention. But it is vital that the profession supports and values older teachers, whether they’ve been in the classroom since they left university or joined last week from another career. The government now has an excellent blueprint for helping schools do just that, and it is up to all of us to support it.