THE VETERAN SCHOOLMASTER
By Dr. J. H. SHACKLETON BAILEY (Headmaster of Lancaster Grammar School)
Ithe eyes of schoolmasters the Burnham Scale had the 1 supreme merit of assuring to every teacher in actual employment a progressive salary dependent in practice only on his length of service. True, the original scheme contained a disciplinary proviso that increments might be withheld as a penalty for misconduct or incompetence ; but instances where this proviso has been put into force are so rare as to be left out of the reckoning. The chief defect of the scheme, which the passage of time has accen- tuated, is that in secondary schools it has produced a state of things bordering on stagnation amongst the senior members of the staffs. These may be good, bad or indifferent, but no matter into which of these categories any individual teacher may come, his chances of getting a new appointment after reaching the age of 45 are slender in the extreme. No headmaster of a secondary school is nowadays appointed over this age unless under very exceptional circumstances. Again, as regards assistant-masterships at these schools, when a vacancy is advertised, as it usually is, and the number of applicants runs probably into three figures, what governing body or headmaster is going to select a veteran who, even if he were as capable, as his younger competitors, would have to be paid double their salary and could hardly be expected to be as active and useful, taking future prospects into consideration ?
Most headmasters of experience would probably agree that, though it is very desirable for the sake of continuity to have a modest number of veterans on their staff who have spent their working lives in the service of the school, an undue proportion of these is a real drawback. Assuming that teachers over 5o years of age may have the same zeal for their work and the same mental alertness as their younger colleagues—which is a big assumption—it would still be true that these elderly men have mostly lost touch with youth, are averse from necessary changes, can take very little active part in boys' games, are more liable to be absent from school through sickness, and generally have con- tracted social or domestic interests which make a larger call on their leisure time than is ordinarily the case with young masters. Further they must of necessity in the majority of cases be less conversant with the latest ideas in the teaching of their own subject than those whose connexion with a university is far more recent. It is almost indisputable therefore, today, that there are many teachers getting on in years who could advantageously be replaced by younger ones if efficiency were the only consideration. In practice, the inhumanity of depriving a family man of his post when it is obvious that he could never get another outweighs everything else when the question arises of making any such change.
While things remain thus, and while it is parents and pupils who suffer rather than the teachers, it is not to be expected that much will be said in public at educational con- ferences of what is a rapidly growing evil. Instead of the ratio of men over 45 to men under that age being i : 2, which would not be unreasonable, there are many schools where this ratio has become one of equality or even worse. The Board of Education, with all its penchant for statistics, has never in its annual forms, so meticulous about the age of pupils, made a single query as to the ages of those who teach them. If this were done, some very interesting facts would be elicited which might result in much-needed reforms. For example, some of the abler men who had passed the promotion zone for headmasterships might be given a chance of changing their school should they so desire it.
It would be unjust to the Board of Education and to the various educational authorities throughout the country to say that the present impasse has not had their serious attention. It is much easier, however, to recognise this flaw in our present educational system than to remedy it. Were the Board suddenly to decree that no school was to have more than a third of its staff composed of men over 45, this would undoubtedly provoke an outcry from the powerful teachers' organisations, which, alive as they may be to the interests of the child, are still more so to those of its preceptors. No administration could survive the protests that would be made unless the decree were accompanied by very liberal concessions in the pensions scheme, which would add a considerable burden to the national finances. But, assuming that voluntary retirement on a pension were allowed at the age of 5o and that redundant veterans were compulsorily retired at 55 on what would, with them normally be the maximum pension, this would, in the case of those staffs where the veterans exceeded the limit, lead to the weeding out of a good deal of inefficiency without imposing undue hardship on those who had to go. By this means also a stimulus would be provided for a not inconsiderable number of senior men, who, having long lost the enthusiasm of their earlier years in the profession, are simply putting in time until they arrive at a pensionable age, and naturally putting it in very often with the minimum of exertion. The effect of the reform would also be to open the door much wider to teachers at the beginning of their careers who, at present, where there is unemployment, are the chief sufferers.