Teachers will drop dead from exhaustion warns Marlborough headmaster
Teachers will drop dead from exhaustion if they are forced to work longer under the government’s new pension and extended working proposals. And teaching recruitment too will be put into jeopardy.
That is the grim warning that has come from Dr Patrick Hazlewood (pictured), headmaster for the past 16 years of St John’s School, Marlborough, who declares he would have chosen a different profession if the proposed new conditions were in force when he became a teacher earning just £1,780 a year in 1976.
While he hopes that strikes by the teaching unions will be avoided by positive government action, he fears that St John’s will have to close its doors to its 1,700 students on November 30 if 25 per cent of the teaching staff of 125 walk out on strike.
“We are not a child minding business,” he insisted in an exclusive interview with Marlborough News Online.
And as unions ridiculed the government’s latest suggestion that teachers should go on strike for just 15 minutes and save losing a days’ pay, Dr Hazlewood declared: “I am certain there is a legitimate grievance here.”
“For three of the unions who are about to take strike action if things aren’t resolved, that is something that teachers have never done before. It gives an indication of the degree of anger there is, but I think it is more than anger.”
“It is the degree of what this actually is. And while I hate to use the term unfair because it sounds like a child moaning, it is literally an unfairness because it has no basis in fact.”
He does not belong to the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members – there are 365 in Wiltshire whose schools could be hit -- have voted to strike for the first time ever in the union’s 114-year history.
Yet Dr Hazlewood, who has won international recognition for St John’s, still attacked the government’s “steamrollering manner” in reducing teachers’ pensions and extending the retirement age and accused it of failing to check the facts, especially the fact that teachers’ pensions schemes are currently running in credit, not a deficit as some politicians have suggested.
“The teachers pay huge amounts into their pensions already,” he pointed out. “The amount that goes in each month is about seven per cent of the teachers’ salary. That has been met by a sum from the employers. And that has been true for many years.”
“Whilst the government does seem to have done the basic calculations, it hasn’t checked the current basis of the pension scheme. When that question has been asked of them, they have sort of fudged it.”
Teachers currently earn £27,000 to £30,000 a year with final salary scheme pensions at just under £10,000, but if an average salary scheme is imposed they will lose out considerably, having to pay more for a reduced pension.
“If the pension age is to change as well, then that is another problem,” he protested. “It is a complete madness as far as I can see. For those who know what teaching is like, it is a very draining activity.”
“You imagine 30 children of whatever age in your classroom all through the day. Most parents may find one child difficult but 30 constantly through the day. The pace of education today is so intense that teachers are very worn out.”
“By the time they reach the age of 55 they are looking for early retirement because they simple can’t cope any longer. As a head, I would hate to be presiding over a school in which people were dropping dead, literally dropping dead from exhaustion.”
“It is really that bad. It is that serious.”
“We have very few teachers over 55 here at St John’s. Those that have not taken early retirement have stepped down, either to a lesser post but usually to part-time contracts.”
“Quite a number of my staff who are over 55 work three days a week. That’s the only way they can see they can get to retirement in one piece.”
He believes there are bigger issues too if the government’s proposals are enacted. They will seriously impact on teacher recruitment.
“Senior leaders of the profession like myself could earn a lot more doing jobs elsewhere,” he added. “The government will find it has a headship recruitment crisis in particular. If I had known if something like this was going to happen a long time ago, I would not have come into the teaching profession.”
He views with sadness a strike, an action that was a last resort by teachers and enormously regretted. “I hope the government will negotiate properly and effectively,” said Dr Hazlewood. “I desperately hope that this strike can be avoided.”