More than four-fifths of all primary school teachers who retired last year had not reached the official retirement age.
As the annual cost of paying pensions to retired teaching staff rose by more than €30 million in 2015, to €739 million, figures published by the Department of Education showed that 539 out of 654 primary teachers who retired during 2015 did so on a voluntary basis. 392 teachers retired before 60, about 60 per cent of the total. Only 27 had reached the compulsory retirement age, while 42 were forced to retire on medical grounds. Forty six other teachers were allowed to take “cost neutral early retirement” on reduced pensions.
The figures also revealed that more than half of all primary teachers who retired last year were either principals or deputy principals.
Under retirement rules any teacher who began employment before April 1, 2004 can voluntarily retire from 60 years of age or from 55 years if they have 35 years’ service and still receive their public service pension. Otherwise they must retire at the end of the school year in which they reach 65. Teachers aged 50 to 60 may also retire on reduced pension benefits.
New entrants who started teaching after April 2004 can only voluntarily retire at 65.
In response to a recent parliamentary question, Richard Bruton, the minister for education, said that approximately 7,000 teachers had retired in the past five years. They received around €691 million in lump sum gratuity payments.
More than 26,000 retired teachers and other retired school staff receive Department of Education pensions. The cost of such pensions between 2011 and 2015 was about €3.4 billion.
The average gross annual pension of teachers who retired since 2011 is €30,750.
“Teachers and special needs assistant vacancies that arise in schools due to retirements or otherwise are one of the few areas of the public service that have been exempted from the government’s moratorium on recruitment,” Mr Bruton said. “Resultant vacancies continue to be filled in the normal way.”
He added: “In addition, and notwithstanding budgetary pressures, teacher numbers are increasing due to the ongoing and significant increases in demographics at primary and post-primary level.
The budget announced last October provided for an additional 2,260 teaching posts for the 2016-17 school year, the minister said.
Asked by Brendan Smith, the Fianna Fail TD, about the widespread concern that had arisen in relation to a large number of retired teachers who were back in part-time employment in schools, Mr Bruton said that it was the policy of the Department of Education to ensure as far as possible that priority is given to unemployed registered teachers who are fully qualified when filling vacant teaching posts.
“It is schools that employ teachers and not my department,” Mr Bruton said. However, he pointed out that the department had issued a number of circulars which required registered teachers to be given priority over retired teachers when hiring new staff.
Retired teachers who return to teaching after February 1, 2012 commence at the lowest point on the salary scale for new teachers. Credit for past service and qualification allowances are not payable.
“This measure represents a significant financial disincentive for teachers who retired at the top of their salary scale, often with a post of responsibility allowance, to return to teaching,” Mr Bruton said.
In secondary, community and comprehensive schools, a total of 375 teachers retired last year.
Less than 6 per cent — 21 teaching staff — had reached the compulsory retirement age, while 23 retired for medical reasons.
The biggest category of retirees in second level education during 2015 was teachers at assistant principal level who accounted for 46 per cent of the total.
Similar to their primary school colleagues, almost 60 per cent of retirees were under 60 years of age.