Older teachers are overlooked and underappreciated. We must support them – here's how
It's well-known that there's a timebomb in teaching right now – the sector is struggling with both recruitment and retention, while the population of pupils keeps increasing. And yet, many experienced older teachers, particularly women, feel that they are being performance managed out of their jobs, to be replaced by younger, cheaper staff.
Those who stay in the profession are facing a longer run than ever to retirement, but can be overlooked for promotions and underserved in terms of training.
Nicola McEwan, director of teacher training at the University of Buckingham, previously completed her master's thesis on how to sustain professional development in an ageing population of teachers. Her research found that this age group is at risk of stagnating as their needs go unmet by schools. We asked her advice for ensuring that experienced staff feel valued and keep progressing.
Go beyond performance management
"Once you're deemed fit to be in the classroom, you're kind of left to it. I've looked a lot at appraisal systems and continuous professional development (CPD) – and this is not how you sustain development.
"The NQT system and the teacher training system works and it fits everyone at that stage, but as staff get older, you can't impose a rigid set plan. You need to find out from an individual what motivates them, rather than bolting on CPD or putting them on a course that doesn't have any impact.
"Very few schools do skills audit of staff, but how do you know what people are good at unless you find out? There is a massive, massive well of experience and skill and knowledge that is being lost. It takes a lot of very positive psychology and coaching, where you say 'What are you really good at? Let's try and use that.'"
Make sure staff buy in to changes
"When introducing new ideas or approaches, you need to map things out – managing change is really complex. If staff don't believe it's valuable, they will not action it.
"You've also got to have the skills, which some staff may not have. Often young senior managers in schools will say, 'You all have to do X, Y and Z.' Older teachers can find that hard.
"There can be a lack of confidence about technology, for example – simply imposing it on older people can be stressful. It can often be an easy training issue, where you can partner them with someone who already has that skill."
Support teachers, not students
"School leaders need to invest in staff – they have to be the priority. Instead of focusing everything on pupils, it has to be about the teachers; if you make sure they are happy, progressing, developing and invested in what's going on, it will feed down and they will take care of pupils' needs.
"This means leaders need a policy on how they are going to keep the development of the teachers going, and a programme that will change according to the needs of different teachers."
Help staff to love their subjects
"Leaders need to find a way of letting teachers re-engage with the subjects they love and wanted to teach in the first place. There are lots of ways to do that, but for me, it's about regaining the joy of studying yourself. I'd love nothing more than to sit in some French lectures, discuss French literature and just re-engage.
"Even the most cynical maths teacher I've ever worked with would feel engaged if you said to him: "What do you love about maths?" As soon as a teacher feels fired up about their subject, that comes across to the kids. I think the cynicism of some older teachers comes partly from being a bit bored and needing a bit of reinvigorating – they need to reconnect with why they love teaching."