Age discrimination: Time to celebrate experience

Written by: Chris Keates | Published:
Chris Keates, general secretary, NASUWT

Age discrimination is a real threat for older teachers in schools according to evidence from the NASUWT, which is launching a new campaign to tackle the issue. Chris Keates explains

At a time when the teaching profession is facing the worst teacher recruitment and retention crisis since the Second World War, you would think that employers would be making every effort to retain teachers, particularly older more experienced teachers who make such a vital contribution. However, this is not the case.

The reality for many older, more experienced teachers is that far from being nurtured and celebrated, they are facing age discrimination, which manifests itself in a variety of behaviours – from overt age discrimination to bullying and harassment through increased observation and scrutiny, disproportionate application of capability procedures, pressure to take on additional unpaid responsibilities, and denial of access to CPD.

In April, at the NASUWT’s annual conference, age discrimination was balloted as the top motion for debate by the union’s membership. This reflected the concerns highlighted by the union’s research and member casework, where there has been a significant spike in the number of unlawful age discrimination cases we are handling.

Examples abound of discriminatory practices. Overt discrimination is common, from remarks such as, “you are 63, don’t you think it’s time you thought about doing something else”, to regular references to staff as “dinosaurs”.

The driving force behind this unacceptable behaviour invariably appears to be that more experienced teachers are likely to be on the upper pay ranges and, therefore, more expensive. However, there is also evidence that some senior managers when appointed see older, more experienced teachers as a threat to their authority given that they are well established in the school, have a depth of experience of the pupils, are often well-known and respected by parents and colleagues, and may be more confident professionally to raise issues.

Unacceptably, older teachers are becoming the regular casualties of the excessive freedoms and flexibilities given to employers, which have allowed poor management and employment practices to flourish, with some schools believing they can act with impunity as they pressurise and harass teachers.

The deep irony of all of this is that a government which has forced teachers to work longer by increasing the normal retirement age and which is currently issuing recruitment and retention strategies to try and address the teacher supply crisis, continues to ignore these practices which are driving away the much-needed stability and experience these teachers offer.

The NASUWT has launched a “Celebrating Experience” campaign to highlight the contribution that older and more experienced teachers make and we will continue to pursue government action to curtail these unacceptable workplace practices.

The education service and consequently our young people will suffer if schools are allowed to continue to judge the value of teachers only on what they cost, rather than what they can contribute.

These employers and senior leaders who know the price of everything but the value of nothing are doing irreparable harm to the education of young people and must be challenged.

Critical to high standards of educational provision is a teaching profession which reflects a range of experience, skills, abilities and expertise and in which teachers are managed in a way that respects their professionalism and celebrates and nurtures the contribution they can make at all career stages.

Until this is recognised by government, employers and those who manage teachers, committed, dedicated and experienced teachers will continue to be lost to the profession and the education of our young people will be the poorer for this..

  • Chris Keates is general secretary of the NASUWT.

Further information

  • From the teaching union conference halls, SecEd, May 2019 (includes a report on the age discrimination debate):


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