Over-50s are fleeing from the classroom

More than 10,000 teachers in their fifties have dropped out of the classroom in the past four years amid fears that increased workloads have prompted experienced teachers to take early retirement.

The number of teachers aged between 50 and 59 has plunged from 87,397 in 2011 (20 per cent of the workforce) to 75,500 last year (17 per cent).

It is the only age group in which numbers have dropped, with over-60s having a small rise from 10,839 to 10,900. The numbers fell in all but two local authorities.

The Workforce Census figures come just weeks after education secretary Nicky Morgan urged retired teachers to return to the classroom to help to solve supply shortages.

The National Union of Teachers says it has anecdotal evidence that over-50s are being placed on capability procedures by “new broom” headteachers who “don’t value their experience”.


Kevin Courtney (pictured), the union’s deputy general secretary, told Schools Week: “For many 50-plus staff the huge increases in workload – much of it work not for their classes but to provide evidence that they are doing their job – has proved the last straw and they have chosen to take their pension early.

“At a time of growing teacher shortage and when Nicky Morgan suggests that retired teachers should return, these figures are of even greater significant.

“It is now vital for the government and employers to discuss the support that is being given to professionals in the later stages of their careers.

“All these matters must be re-examined – experience matters and our schools need a mix of younger and older teachers.”

The Workforce Census figures, released last week, show that the numbers of teachers aged between 50 and 54 dropped from 46,211 in 2011 to 43,100.

It fell more dramatically in the 55 to 60-year-old cohort, from 41,186 in 2011 to 32,400. Both dips come as the numbers in all other age groups increased and the overall number of teachers rose from 431,117 to 454,900.


Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said the loss of older teachers was a “great concern”.

“The age profile for quite a while was skewed to the upper ages. But there’s been a tremendous effort to recruit more young teachers and they are coming in through the various training schemes.

“Teachers got used to the idea that they could retire in their fifties and live quite comfortably. That has persisted to some extent, even though the financial attractions are much less.

“The nature of teaching has changed during their lifetime – it’s now much more factory-like.”

Mr Courtney, speaking at the Westminster Education Forum on Tuesday, called for headteachers to look at what they could do to keep experience in the classroom.

“Those who think it’s right [to put over-50s on capability procedures] will be at the sharp end of not being able to recruit teachers.”

He also called for schools to adopt a work-life balance policy. He said teachers had always worked long hours “but it’s getting worse. We’re now at a point where we need to take action.”

The Workload Challenge, launched by the government last year to identify possible solutions to teachers’ workload, found that many causes were “deeply entrenched” in the culture and practice of schools.

The government’s response included not making changes to qualifications during a course, banning Ofsted from making substantive changes to their inspection framework during the academic year and tracking workload through biannual surveys.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The quality of teachers in England’s schools is at an all-time high and we want to keep that trend rising so every child is given the best education possible. A record number of graduates are joining the profession and we want to ensure all teachers are able to focus on what matters most – teaching.

“We are working with the profession to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers for all walks of life and have set out a clear set of actions which we will continue to build on with schools, Ofsted and teaching unions. Schools also have a responsibility for the wellbeing of their team and ensuring there is a sensible work life balance.”


The good, the bad and the teacher recruitment stats: the census analysed here


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  1. Pat townshend

    50s on capability proceedings? This has been going on for some years. It’s known as ‘the 6 week exit’. First you’re observed, and it’s found there’s something seriously wrong. Capability proceedings start. 6 weeks later you’re gone. Many decided to go after the first observation because they know how the rest of it works. Unrecorded as leaving on capability. Just resigned.
    Overheard in a supermarket between two mature female shelf stackers. ‘I left teaching. I didn’t hate children enough’.

  2. Arthur Beedie

    I got an early retirement deal in Scotland at fifty seven. The local authority had the foresight to realise that the teaching force was ageing and planned appropriately to phase in younger teachers over several years. I’m now sixty six and know that there is no way I could have carried on to my full service, in common with many others. Instead I have a fulfilling time as a volunteer driver with the local social work and the Scottish Ambulance Service.
    The Scottish system mitigates the worst excesses of the Tory government – the HMI in Scotland is apolitical and is a help rather than a hindrance to teachers and teaching practice.

  3. Been driven out of a full time permanent job on “capability” when all previous observations saw me as outstanding. I was 47 and a head of faculty. Can’t get a full time permanent job as a teacher because I am competing against NQTS and those with 1-2 years experience who cost less. But in demand as a supply teacher on the equivalent of NQT pay!!! It’s all about the money stupid

  4. Agree
    I’m in my late 40s.
    It happens when you’re at the top of the pay spine and they realise that you have no plans to move.
    There should be some kind of gvt survey establishing from each ‘retiring’ teacher the reason they left.
    In fact anyone who leaves a school should be required to complete a confidential survey. It should be possible for gvt to build up a picture of where bullying is occurring most in this respect.
    However gvt doesnt want to know or knows already. It is slowly privatising education, and wants more and more teachers replaced by cheaper teachers or TAs/instructors (good people, but who receive half the pay)
    It’s all about the money, money, money