Age discrimination in teaching


Age discrimination in teaching is a growing issue with more reports of experienced teachers feeling like they are being excluded and forced out of the workplace. Younger teachers can also be affected by age discrimination through recruitment and promotion opportunities to redundancy practices. 

Age discrimination can be difficult to prove, however, if you are an Edapt subscriber and believe you have been the victim of age discrimination at school we can provide further support and advice.

Where might age discrimination happen in school?

ACAS explains that age discrimination at work, treating someone unfairly because of age, is against the law apart from in very limited circumstances.

This is the law under the Equality Act 2010. Under the Equality Act, age is one of the nine special areas of life guarded as what is known as protected characteristics. Others include sex, race, pregnancy and maternity, and disability. 

We’ve written another article which provides a summary of the Equality Act here.

ACAS explains for that employers and managers there is a more of a risk of age discrimination happening in particular activities in the workplace including:

  • Recruitment: age discrimination could happen during the hiring process. From the very beginning of working out what is required of an applicant, through to drafting the job application form, advertising the job, interviewing for it, using social media and offering the job. For example, for a job in a school, it is better to set out the type of types of experience needed for a role rather than ask for a certain number of years’ experience
  • Training and promotion: employers and managers must not allow any bias, stereotypical thinking or assumptions about age to creep into decisions about who gets trained or promoted. For example, a school must not assume there is more value in training younger staff and no or little value in training older employees. Nor must they discourage an employee with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience from applying for a more challenging job because of their age
  • Appraisal: a manager must approach an employee’s appraisal and conduct it without preconceptions or bias concerning age. They should treat relevant employees consistently when assessing their performance and setting future goals, no matter what the employee’s age. We’ve written another article about the appraisal process in schools here
  • Capability: a manager should not ignore performance matters because the employee is younger or older than other staff. If there is a capability issue, the manager and the school must give the employee a fair chance to reach and maintain an acceptable standard, no matter what their age. Only if the employee fails to improve after reasonable steps have been taken to help them, can the employer consider dismissing them for under-performance. We’ve written another article about capability procedures here
  • Retirement: in most jobs, there is no longer a set retirement age, meaning almost all employees can decide when they will stop working – but when they can take their work pension will be determined by the pension scheme and Equality Act rules. However, there can still be uncertainty among some employers about the law and retirement. For example, an employer must not assume an employee is retiring, suggest they retire or try to force them to retire
  • Age discrimination by perception: Citizens Advice explains it’s unlawful if someone discriminates against you because they think you belong to a certain age group even though you don’t. This is called discrimination by perception. For example, you’re in your late 30s but you look a lot younger. You were hoping to represent your school at a prestigious conference later in the year. Your employer has decided to send a colleague of yours instead. He says that although you have the necessary experience he wants someone more mature looking. Your colleague has the same experience as you and is in fact slightly younger, although he doesn’t look it. This could be unlawful discrimination because of your perceived age

Age discrimination in teaching: risks of using ‘ageist’ language

ACAS explains derogatory and abusive terms, and comments about an employee or job applicant because of age are likely to be discriminatory. Examples might include a younger employee telling an older colleague they are ‘over the hill’ or an older employee saying to a young colleague, ‘you poor little snowflake’.

In discrimination, how the recipient perceives the words matters more than the intention of the person in saying them.

Age discrimination in teaching: raising a case

If you are an Edapt subscriber you can contact us if you think you are being discriminated against because of your age in school.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.