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.”