Support for teachers moving to retirement

Sue Simpson
Research Officer

Flexibility for mature-age teachers matters

Teachers are part of an ageing workforce that needs to be accommodated appropriately in employment as life-spans increase, a situation that Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan warns requires vigilance against age discrimination.

With many of us likely to live to 90 or 100, Ms Ryan argues that 40 years without earned income and the satisfaction of work may be too much for some whilst for others, particularly women, where the wage gap between men and women’s wages has increased to 18 per cent, continued work is an economic necessity.

She has issued a challenge to the government to lead “the world in employment practices that embrace fairness and improved opportunity for older workers through flexibility, retraining and intergenerational initiatives” and continues to argue that age discrimination is a huge barrier preventing older people from continuing in the workforce.

The DEC’s Workforce Diversity Plan takes up the challenge, but in theory rather than as any priority. The Plan calls for “the increased use of flexible work practices, innovative knowledge management and succession planning” to deal with the “ageing workforce challenges”.

Further echoing Susan Ryan, the DEC plan calls for the identification of “innovative approaches to career management for staff nearing retirement, e.g. mentoring less experienced colleagues, phased retirement options and other positive actions for knowledge continuity and management”. Detail is not provided as to what these “options” might be or how to go about securing them.

At a meeting with the DEC in May last year, Federation was informed that around 15 per cent of permanent appointments in the previous three years had been of teachers aged 45 years and over. Some 400 teachers who were 65 or over were in temporary

The DEC is particularly pleased that experienced but retired maths and science teachers are continuing to teach in temporary appointments. Their workforce projections show that in the last five years and in the next five years, more permanent teachers will be aged 60 or over.

With greater school autonomy, how many principals are aware of their responsibilities to counter age discrimination? How many teachers are aware of the Workforce Diversity Plan and how many could identify an “innovative approach” to the transition to retirement, let alone negotiate it successfully with the principal?

A group of MBA students with no connections to the teaching service approached the Federation last year for feedback concerning their research study: How can flexibility assist the transition of mature age workers into retirement?

The focus was on secondary school teachers in the DEC. For them, flexibility for mature age teachers matters not just because of the social and economic pressures to keep working longer “but because intergenerational support within the teaching industry is paramount to successful knowledge transfer as well as improving the quality of education for future generations”.

They acknowledged that “the concept of flexibility sounds simple, but it represents a significant shift in perspective” and the “commitment must be shared by principals, teachers, parents and students alike”.

For this to occur the DEC and the NSW Government have to be actively promoting transition to retirement workplace practices “in order to be effective in enabling change of perceptions and change in practice”.

The MBA study proposed some innovative approaches:

  • A one to three-year formal job-sharing arrangement between the teacher nearing retirement and the beginning teacher. At the end of the period, the mature teacher would fully retire and the new teacher would fully take up the role in a full-time capacity
  • An expansion of virtual teaching to allow teachers to teach from their home with a particular focus on disadvantaged students
  • Greater opportunities for classroom teachers to participate on working groups, advisory boards and in curriculum development
  • Stronger mentoring programs for teachers in rural and remote schools and teachers of maths, science and languages.

In addition to retiring and seeking casual employment, other options for teachers who are not in the defined benefit superannuation funds is part-time work in the form of permanent part-time work, part-time LWOP or part-time LSL.

The approaches fit with Great Teaching, Inspired Learning and the Rural and Remote Education Plan. While there are increased costs involved, keeping people working longer can pay for itself through increased taxation revenue from increased participation — the same argument governments now used to justify increased child care expenditure.