One in five headteachers sped up retirement plans this year, survey finds

Survey shows that the impact of the last year may take its toll on the sector as many experienced teachers and headteachers decide to retire earlier than expected

A new survey suggests the pressure exerted on headteachers in England during the Covid-19 pandemic has forced one in five to accelerate their retirement plans – and one in 12 plan to depart before the end of next year.

Although the figures are self-reported and are not a weighted sample, if accurate, they suggest an exodus of senior leaders may be on the horizon. The findings do not separate between state and independent sectors – but professionals from both sectors took part.

TeacherTapp asked 5,598 teachers in England about their retirement plans in April 2021 for Wesleyan, the specialist financial services mutual for teachers. 

Just over one in five (21%) headteachers at schools in England have accelerated their retirement plans over the past 12 months. Nearly one in 10 (8%) plan to depart before the end of next year.

A similar pattern is apparent among the most experienced staff: the survey found that almost a fifth (19%) of teachers with more than 20 years of experience plan to leave the classroom early. Those who have changed their plans most commonly cite a lack of work-life balance (83%), workload (72%) and stress (70%) as their biggest drivers for earlier retirement. 

Wesleyan said it was concerned that, of those planning to retire earlier than expected, 28% of the most experienced teaching staff and 21% of headteachers admitted they were not confident at all about their financial preparations.

Simon Rake, head of the teachers division at Wesleyan, said: “Considering the stresses headteachers have faced it’s not surprising many are reconsidering retirement.

“Some will find themselves between a rock and a hard place – deciding whether to risk retiring earlier without understanding how they will access the money they need or continuing to work in conditions that are taking a toll on their mental health.”

It is essential that teachers take the time to assess their own finances, understand what options they have available and put a plan in place so that they are in the strongest possible position when the day eventually comes Simon Rake, Wesleyan

Wesleyan said many senior and long-serving staff members were unaware of what ongoing changes to their pension schemes – particularly measures to remedy discrimination in public sector schemes often referred to as the ‘McCloud’ case – would mean for them. The employer contribution rate increased by 43% from September 2019 following the 2016 TPS valuation – and many independent schools are concerned that it could rise further. 

Rake said: “Over the past six years, those in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) have seen a move to a career average revalued earnings scheme, the new choices offered by pension freedoms and, more recently, the ongoing changes brought about by the McCloud case. 

“Understanding what each one of these changes will mean for their own pensions is key to being able to retire with confidence.

“Even if they’re not considering early retirement, it is essential that teachers take the time to assess their own finances, understand what options they have available and put a plan in place so that they are in the strongest possible position when the day eventually comes.”

Last September, a freedom of information request revealed the number of independent schools withdrawing from TPS has almost doubled in the six months to September 2020. The increase brings the total number of private schools that have withdrawn to 177. The average pension paid by the TPS has fallen since 1999 from £13,679 a year to £12,337 today. 


Read more: TPS a ‘here and now issue’, says bursars association CEO

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