How retirees could soon be cruising into classrooms

Teachers who face the prospect of working into their late sixties could be forgiven for planning to spend their retirement as far away from the classroom as possible.

But educationalist and philosopher Baroness Warnock believes that bringing recent retirees from other professions into schools could raise the status of teaching and ease staff shortages.

Lady Warnock is proposing a new scheme called Teach Last, inspired by the Teach First programme that has brought thousands of young graduates into teaching. Skilled retirees from a range of backgrounds could teach as a “second profession”, she said.

“It does seem to me that there’s a tremendous waste of talent,” she told TES. “Society hasn’t really caught up with the fact that people retire when they’re at the height of their powers these days. There’s such a lot of energy, imagination and capacity for work left after most retirement ages.”

Lady Warnock said that, under her scheme, retired professionals would be given “in-service training”, during which they would observe teaching and then deliver lessons under observation, in a “compressed” version of the school placements undertaken by PGCE students. The retirees could then become paid teachers, working largely on a peripatetic basis with local schools.

Teach Last teachers would tend to have a degree in their subject, Lady Warnock said, but not a teaching qualification. She said she was particularly keen for the programme to be taken up by language teachers, especially in minority subjects such as Russian, because the decline in language learning at secondary schools had been a “disaster”.

“The people I’m thinking of to fill these gaps would be retired diplomats and business people, for example,” she said. “Quite a lot of these people have acquired talent through their professional life because they know how to communicate with people. I think they would be the most marvellous teachers.”

The 91-year-old said she wished the scheme had existed when she retired. “I could easily have gone into teaching Latin and Greek, which is how I started…In fact, I’d have loved it.”

‘Natural authority’

Lady Warnock, who was headmistress of Oxford High School for Girls from 1966 to 1972, will outline details of her proposal in a debate hosted by the High Sheriff of Shropshire this month. She believes the scheme could bring the additional benefit of helping schools to overcome discipline problems.

“I think quite a lot of these non-teachers carry a kind of authority that sadly a lot of teachers don’t,” she said.

“There’s a kind of mindset among adolescent children that teachers are fair game…School teaching is not a respected profession so if somebody is coming from a long career that is respected, I think they’d carry a good deal of natural authority with them that teachers don’t get. I find that very depressing, but I think it’s true.”

Fred Jarvis, the retired general secretary of the NUT teaching union, told TES that he would like to see “inspirational” figures entering the profession after retirement, but that they would have to be properly trained.

“They can’t just go into the classroom and think they will be able to teach well,” he said.

The 90-year-old added: “We’ve already got teachers very angry at being expected to teach to the age of 68, so if you’re going to bring in 68-year-olds I don’t know how they would fare…Coping with very lively youngsters at the age of 65 or more isn’t a cake walk.”

Alison Ryan, a senior policy adviser at the ATL teachers’ union, said that “bringing in people without qualifications” would not provide a long-term solution to teacher shortages.

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “People with life experience can add a lot by working with young people. I wouldn’t underplay the requirement for proper training, but I think the teaching -workforce at a school benefits if there are people with a wide range of experiences.”

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