The Unions want to preserve the pensions of their members, whilst the government want to cut them to reduce the UK’s budget deficit. The public sector strike that will close many schools and bring chaos to airports and hospitals is all about money. However, the dispute has other important dimensions not least in schools the matter of education.
Requiring teachers to work longer may save money but what will it do for the quality of education?
As a child I was taught by a wonderful Maths teacher who we called ‘Yoda’ after the Jedi Master in ‘Star Wars’. We thought he was 90, but in reality ‘Yoda’ was an evergreen 70 whose passion for mathematics was palpable. He brought decades of experience to the classroom, and a very wise head to the staff room. Teach us he did and to a very high standard.
However, for every ‘Yoda’ there is a teacher who is ready and wants to retire at 60. Teaching is a very tiring profession, and teachers are effectively required to ‘perform’ in front of a lively and demanding audience from 8.35 in the morning to 4.00 in the afternoon. It is a long time to be the focus of attention, and to be variously the class motivator, class disciplinarian, class social worker, class academic and class assessor. Very few actors would perform for seven hours at a stretch, and then go home to hours of assessment and preparation. In addition teachers have to take sports teams, lead trips, and run club and societies, whilst retaining the patience of a saint and the ability to empathise with young people and their world; a world very different to the childhoods of the fifties and sixties.
Some teachers will do an outstanding job well past current retirement ages, others will struggle. It would be regrettable if any money saved from pension reform came at an educational cost, with standards of teaching and learning being compromised by the requirement for teachers to stay in service. It would also be unfortunate if outstanding careers had to end in a decline because teachers were forced to work for longer than they wanted to. A flexible approach to pensions is needed recognising that whilst some teachers will have the energy, passion, and commitment to teach on, others will not. In trying to save money, the government must remember that the business of schools is education.