Is Teaching A Young Person’s Game?

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How balanced is your teaching staff?

Young and inexperienced teachers dominate teaching. Generally speaking, teaching is a young person’s game. It’s a point that John Tomsett makes in his book This Much I Know about Lover Over Fear when he says, ” – we have 112 teachers, and, at the age of 50, only four of them are older than me.”

Teaching demands a lot from us physically and mentally and unsurprisingly many teachers are feeling worse for wear and are ‘eyeing the exit’ quite early on in their careers. Many thousands of great teachers have already left, damaged by a system that has used and abused them.

In a recent survey of 1500 teachers by specialist recruiter Randstad, it was found that the age of apathy was most prevalent in teachers aged 31-45 and that 1/3 of teachers over 40 planned to leave teaching in the next year. Clearly many teachers are disillusioned, and crippling workloads and a poor work-life balance have played their grotesque part, but we’ve got to reboot these teachers and make sure they stay in the system – we can’t keep losing experience!

According to a report authored by Peter Sellen for the Education Policy Institute, 

Only 48 per cent of teachers in England have more than ten years’ experience, compared to an average of 64 per cent. England also has had one of the fastest reductions in the proportion of teachers aged over 50 in secondary education between 2005 and 2014.

With so little experience in the profession and with many leaving every year, children aren’t getting a balanced education.


Children need experience. They also need inexperience. They need both and everything in between.

But experience matters and having a school full of young teachers is not good. It’s not good in the sense that a school full of experienced teachers wouldn’t be healthy either. Neither would an all-female or all-male staff. There has to be a balanced plate of food full of diverse characters with a variety of experiences to feed the system. As John Tomsett says:

“We mustn’t be seduced by the cult of youth or blinded by the dogmatism of experience. Like most successful things, schools need a blend of youth and experience and then the structures to enable both to learn from each other.”

Experience clearly matters, which is why it is wonderful to see schools embracing this experience and not helping people find the door, or retire before their time.

Let’s Be Frank … And Marion Too

Age should be no barrier to teaching. There is one teacher in Nashville in the United States who gets my respect. His name is Frank Michanowicz and he is still teaching at the age of 91 years. There are very few teachers in the world still working at this age which makes ‘Mr Frank’ wonder: “If they’re good at what they do, they should be there helping them out because the children need us.”

Some people don’t want to retire despite the demands of the job. Then there is Marion Bryan, also aged 91, she’s still teaching too and five days a week at that. She gets children’s attention by wearing a seatbelt around her waist and rapping lyrics. “I tell them that learning is like packing a suitcase for life’s journey.”

Teaching Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas

We should be pushing for more teachers to ‘stay on’. Teachers with 30+ years experience have tens of thousands of flying hours and air miles under their belts and we need to make sure we keep hold of them. If someone wants to keep on teaching then we should let them, not retire them, make them redundant or let them become victims of apathy.

Extremely low levels of CPD are part of the problem for teachers and as Peter Sellen points out in his report,

An obvious implication of high rates of turnover, and short teaching careers, is that the substantial resources invested in initial teaching training will involve significant amounts of waste. If those resources could be allocated better to the teachers who stay for longer, through raising the levels of effective CPD undertaken later in careers, overall teaching quality might be raised and more might stay.

We desperately need experienced teachers.

We shouldn’t allow teaching to be a job you do enthusiastically in your twenties, burn yourself out in your thirties and then bow out of with a mental illness in your forties. We need the nonagenarians like ‘Mr. Frank’ and Mrs. Bryan too: they are powerhouses of wisdom and life that we just cannot waste.

Be a ‘Mr. Frank’ or a Mrs. Bryan and change the demographic of your school.

6 thoughts on “Is Teaching A Young Person’s Game?

  1. The main problem, I found, was lack of respect. A headteacher who came in actively recruiting and promoting young people. He also deliberately made life difficult for older staff.
    Generally this misguided emphasis on data and statistics is stifling teaching.
    The final nail in the coffin is that young teachers are cheaper.

  2. 30 years experience seems to be unique. I appear to be the most experienced member of staff in the school. I have however worked in 7 institutions with 11 different posts. I enjoy development as the reason for change not change due to whim. Having had my retirement age changed I still have 13 yrs to do. Will my enthusiasm last that long in the current climate?

  3. I am only 31 – have 8 years experience and am considered a veteran! I don’t have a clue what I’m doing! But it does seem like the average age now of teachers is about 17.

  4. Part of the problem is that Secretaries of State for Education like Mr Gove have created the impression that anyone can be a teacher and that not much training is needed to be a good teacher. All that talk of depriving school pupils of brilliant science teachers by forcing graduates to train first. We have Teach First creating the impression that you can be a teacher for a couple of years and then go and do a “proper” well paid job. I was a teacher for 36 years and when I started teaching as a science teacher (with a “good” degree and a PGCE) it took me about 6 years before I was a reasonably effective teacher. Most Teach First teachers are likely to have been a net drain on the system if they only managed 2 years. We need to change the climate around teaching as a profession. It is a skilled job that you have to learn for a long time to be any good, like a professional orchestra player. In addition the profession needs better representation by the professional associations who need to explain to the public what a teacher is, rather than these organisations being whingers and strike callers.

  5. 4 years ago I was told by a large teaching institution
    ‘You don’t really fit out requirements we’re looking for younger candidates’ …. I was 41!
    Now qualified and love what I do every day…in fact am focusing particularly on so called challenging schools … age is just a number… attitude and resilience key for me.

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