Teachers rush for early retirement

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One in six teachers over 50 is rushing to retire next Easter to beat a government clampdown on pensions, according to a union survey.

Figures released yesterday by the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Wo- men Teachers suggest more than 11,700 teachers want to take early retirement on 31 March, nearly 3,000 more than usually opt to go early in a year.

Union general secretary Nigel de Gruchy warned of a "crisis of teacher supply" in the summer term of 1997 in the wake of predicted mass departures. He suggested that the Government's attempt to keep older, more experienced teachers from leaving by making early retirement harder had backfired.

The teaching world has been thrown into turmoil over early retirements since the Government announced proposals last month to change the terms of the teachers' pension fund.

It wants to shift the burden of premature retirement costs from the fund to employers, mainly local education authorities and further education colleges.

The move is being billed as an attempt to hold on to experienced staff, but is also needed to stem a steadily increasing drain on the pension fund.

The proposals, now out to consultation, will come into force on 1 April if approved. Local education authorities say they will make early retirement for teachers prohibitively expensive, and warn that burnt-out staff will now be forced to stay on until they are 60.

The NASUWT figures are based on a survey of 50 LEAs, which revealed that 16 per cent of teachers over 50 wanted to go. More are expected to follow as the implications of the changes become known to more staff, and there will be further departures through redundancy and sickness.

Teaching unions claim the deadline will cause particular problems because it falls in the middle of the academic year, leaving some classes with a change of teacher just before exams.

They also suggest the long-term effect of the changes will be a build- up of older, more costly staff in schools - draining budgets and ultimately blocking posts which could have gone to new teachers entering the profession.

The Department for Education and Employment yesterday warned that employers would have to "look very carefully at their staffing needs for next summer term" if they let many teachers go early before Easter.

The unions have all pledged to lobby ministers over the pensions fund changes, but privately acknowledge they have little chance of securing a change of heart. They would also have difficulty winning public sympathy for teachers insisting on exercising their right to retire at 50.

Instead, they plan to focus their campaigns on winning more consultation time, with a later date for implementing the changes.

The NASUWT is calling for an overhaul of the way the teachers' pension scheme is run. It wants employers' and teachers' contributions to be invested rather than paid into the Treasury. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers yesterday warned its 15,000 members not to be panicked by the changes into setting up new personal pensions.