Teaching talent under threat as older workers exit the classroom

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Classrooms are facing a mass exodus of senior teaching staff as the baby boomer generation nears retirement, coupled with societal pressure to leave the workforce at state pension age, according to new research by Randstad Education.

Previous research revealed that by 2022 the number of people in the workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have risen by 3.7 million to 13.8 million and the number aged 16-49 will have reduced by 700,000. As these older, and often more senior, workers reach retirement age and exit the workforce en masse, the exodus of this generation will usher in a new skills shortage.

Despite this threat, Randstad's new research reveals there is a pervasive societal pressure for older employees to leave the workforce at state pension age – and teachers feel this tension more acutely than average. Nearly four-fifths (79%) of teachers report feeling this pressure, compared to 75% of typical workers. In addition, 36% of employees in the education sector say this pressure is ‘significant’, while only 15% of teachers say they don’t feel this pressure.

The implications of this perception could be severe – with nearly a third (32%) of teachers saying they plan to retire early as a result. Believing that “they won’t be wanted in the workforce when older” is the key motivation behind this accelerated retirement plans, listed by 85% of education workers who intend to retire early. The remaining 15% expect to retire early because they are worried about age discrimination in schools.

Overall, it is older workers who feel most strongly that they are being pushed from the workforce. Four in ten employees (42%) who started working before 1975 said they would retire early because they feel “like they won’t be wanted in the workforce when older” – a much more significant proportion than any other age group. Only 27% of workers who joined the workforce between 1975 and 1984 reported the same feelings, 28% between 1985 and 1994, 26% between 1995 and 2004 and just 26% after 2005.

The research also looked at what helps persuade workers to stay in the workforce for longer. In order to improve the retention of older teachers in the education workforce, schools need to provide better support for older staff through increasing the availability of flexible working or job-shares, and implementing phased retirement programmes. Crucially, these initiatives need to be better publicised to help change the perception of older education workers.

Education workers differed from the UK norm in terms of what factors would persuade them to stay in teaching longer than planned. The largest proportion of teachers (45%) answered that a change of their role to become more of a mentor figure, with the opportunity to pass down their teaching wisdom, would help them stay in the job for longer. This compared to just 38% of workers across all industries, showing teachers value the chance to share their work experience with younger, and more junior colleagues more highly than in other sectors.

The second biggest factor that could persuade teachers to delay their retirement, for 43% of those polled, would be the provision of flexible working arrangements, enabling them to fit their career around other responsibilities in later life, such as caring for a loved one.

The availability of phased retirement to help smooth the transition from working to full retirement was also a popular option, with 38% of teachers saying this would help keep them in schools for longer. With regular changes to the curriculum and prescribed thinking on teaching strategies, as well as the more prominent role of IT in classrooms, retraining schemes were cited by 27% of teachers, while a quarter (25%) answered that a change in attitude within the education sector to become more accepting of older teachers would have a positive impact.

Jenny Rollinson, managing director of Randstad Education, said: "Not all teachers will want to leave the profession at state pension age, and there is certainly plenty of research to show that staying in the workforce keeps the older generation in better physical and mental health. Therefore, retraining schemes are vital to make sure that older teachers still feel confident of the latest teaching methods, curriculum changes and technologies used in the classroom – to prevent them from bowing out earlier that they would want to."

School Leadership Today
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