Older teachers fear being bullied out of the profession

Older teachers in Scotland’s secondary schools are being hounded out of the profession due to “institutionalised ageism” and bullying from management, an education union leader has said.

Between 2004 and 2018 teacher numbers fell by almost 4,000.

Dozens of experienced teachers are lodging complaints each year saying they are being targeted for expressing opinions about new teaching methods.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said this is leading to a mass exodus of older teachers at a time when schools are facing a severe staff shortage.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“Teachers and head teachers are working in a results-based culture,” said Searson. “Rather than have an open dialogue with older staff who might say, ‘Oh, we tried that 20 years ago and it didn’t work,’ and harness their experience, expressing opinions is seen as criticism. They are often regarded as troublesome and are being undermined and forced out of the profession.

“If older teachers don’t conform to what is required their competence as a teacher is questioned.”

Searson cited an example of such a teacher in her mid-50s who was “displaced” – put back into the local authority teaching pool where she could be sent to any school in the authority.

He claimed the head teacher justified this by saying: “Oh, she’s probably about to retire anyway.”

“A younger teacher could have had a job application in to move to another school,” said Searson.

Last year Lord Bracadale recommended a new statutory aggravation for age be added to hate crime legislation. The Scottish Government is currently holding a consultation on this and other recommendations.

Earlier this month a Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Conservatives showed that between 2004 and 2018 teacher numbers fell by almost 4,000. Despite increases in most of the other age groups, the 43 to 60-year-old age range has decreased by 12,896 over the same period.

However, Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said he was unaware of ageism in teaching. “There is certainly evidence of older people reflecting on their age and when they will have access to their pension. “People are looking at where they are, seeing younger people and may be thinking my time has come, as in any profession.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We value all teachers, regardless of age, and expect all employers to respect them. All local authorities have locally agreed grievance procedures which all teachers have recourse to.”