‘Teachers over 30 are too expensive to keep’

It seems increasingly rare to find ordinary classroom teachers with grey hair. It’s not because we’re ageing slowly or that we’re under less stress. A secondary teacher writes in Tes.

It’s because the UK education system has created an environment in which teachers who reach the ripe old age of, say 30, are no longer incentivised to remain in the classroom. 
On one hand, this may seem like a good thing – more experienced teachers should take on leadership roles in addition to classroom duties. But, unfortunately, it has the devastating effect of taking our most effective teachers out of the classroom and away from teaching. This is just at the point when they have refined their practice to an art form (or at least they don’t make those costly, amateur mistakes quite as often).

Just think about it. You’re on the upper pay scale and want to move schools. Perhaps, you’ve held a position of responsibility and want to “just be a teacher” once again. After all, didn’t we go into this job for the love of teaching? But there’s a hitch: why would a school, with the financial pressures that they now face, employ you, as opposed to a newly qualified teacher who costs almost £20K less? After all, there are situations where taking the NQT would make some sense, especially if the department is strong and could support and mentor them, at least until they are up to a similar standard to the more experienced teacher.

Schools ‘left with an experience black hole’

But there comes a point where a focus on cost-effectiveness creates a false economy. Behaviour management strategies, nuances of exam technique, breadth and depth of subject knowledge, understanding of the student demographics of the school and the ability to communicate effectively with parents – these can make all the difference in teaching. But they can’t always be “taught” effectively: they really have to be developed through experience. It can take years to do just that. By relying on a high turnover of new and recently qualified teachers, schools end up with an “experience black hole” – one that sucks crucial support and expertise from the staffroom.

Classroom teachers in their 30s who don’t seek a leadership role have 30 to 40 years left until they retire. Without the stereotypical road-map of promotion, promotion, promotion, it’s difficult to see how they can plan long-term, for development throughout their careers. Of course, they can improve their skills of questioning, behaviour management, meta-cognition and the like, but these are developmental in an ad-hoc way. They don’t tie into a planned, career-development narrative, in the same way that middle and senior leadership CPD does, and it leaves many teachers feeling like they are treading water.

Do you see yourself in this article? Read the full article ‘Teachers over 30 are too expensive to keep’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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