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Poll: Increased stress ‘a factor’ as 350 teachers in Suffolk retire early in three years

PUBLISHED: 13:58 28 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:58 28 January 2013

Graham White, Suffolk NUT

Graham White, Suffolk NUT

Archant

INCREASING pressures in the classroom have contributed to 350 teachers in Suffolk taking early retirement in just three years, union chiefs have claimed.

The NUT voiced its concern at the figures last night, saying it had resulted in the county – struggling near the bottom of national Key Stage Two and GCSE league tables – losing a “massive amount” of experience.

It also claims the county’s School Organisation Review (SOR), in which middle schools are being axed in favour of a two-tier system, has forced many teachers to leave the profession early.

But Suffolk County Council has played down the figures, saying they are not a major concern, and denying the SOR is a major factor.

Graham White, Suffolk NUT branch secretary, said budget cuts and changes imposed by the Government were prompting many teachers to decide “enough is enough”.

He said: “The situation is that all teachers are facing increased stress and with everything that’s going on from the Government, teachers are saying ‘I want out – I have had enough’.

“In Suffolk, that is compounded by SOR.

“Middle school staff are being made redundant and many in their mid-50s are taking early retirement. We are losing a massive amount of experienced and influential staff – that’s a great shame.”

The news comes just days after national league tables placed Suffolk 142nd out of 151 local authorities for students gaining five or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths.

And only last month, the county’s primary schools fell to third from bottom in the league tables for Key Stage Two (11-plus).

The retirement figures show that between 2008/9 and 2010/11, a total of 350 teachers in Suffolk and 620 in Essex left the profession ahead of the statutory retirement age.

They were revealed by David Laws, Minister of State for schools, following a question in the House of Commons by Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley. Mr Ruffley said he hoped teachers who were committed to the profession would look to continue working.

He said: “I don’t buy the argument that this just means highly experienced and therefore more expensive staff are being phased out to make way for less experienced and less expensive staff.

“That’s a negative way of putting it and I don’t accept it. Those with experience should be encouraged to stay in the system and if displaced from middle schools, should be encouraged to apply for a job in an expanded primary or secondary school.”

Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and young people, said the increase in the number of teachers taking early retirement in Suffolk was in keeping with the national trend and “reflects the age profile of the workforce in schools”.

He said: “It is not overly concerning, and while SOR may have helped some teachers to decide on a date for early retirement, many would have been considering it regardless.

“We have kept schools fully staffed during re-organisation and have seen results at age 11 across re-organised areas improving during the process and improve significantly afterwards.”

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex section of the NUT, said he was “not surprised” by the figures and claimed that some older teachers were being pushed out from some schools in order to be replaced by newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) who are cheaper to employ.

He said: “What I have seen, anecdotally, in Essex are schools that have put pressure on older teachers, particularly women in the primary sector. If you get rid of a teacher on an upper pay scale and bring in an NQT then the financial savings are substantial.

“There are a number of teachers who, when they reach 55, think they have had enough – they see it as an opportunity to leave and have taken their pension. They find the current teaching environment inexplicably pressurised.”

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