TEACHERS could become depressed, burnt out and leave the profession in droves unless the UK Government does a U-turn on plans to make teachers work until they are 68.
That was the message from the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay today as hundreds of Welsh members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) went on strike, leaving 47 Gwent secondary and primary schools shut and around 120 partially closed.
NUT members in England also walked out after talks broke down with the UK Department for Education over pensions and the details of plans to introduce performance-related pay.
Education secretary Michael Gove said he'd be willing to work with the unions on a study into the effects of working until the age of 68, in a letter on Tuesday.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT responded by saying Mr Gove "needs to change direction" or face a serious teacher shortage.
Yesterday's strike, which was also over increased workload, was a last resort, explained Newport NUT rep and Duffryn High School teacher James Cranshaw.
"I don't really want to work until I'm 68," said Mr Cranshaw, who has taught French at the school for eight years. "The workload and pressure to keep standards up, it's making it [the job] very difficult.
"There is a lot more tracking of data, which is fine, but it does take a lot of your time up and it's getting to a critical point where we say 'enough is enough', or it's going to drive people out of the profession.
"People will end up quitting or going early, in which case they'd lose 40 per cent of their pension if they retire at 60," he said. "It [the strike] is a last resort."
NUT Wales secretary David Evans told the crowd he didn't want to see those already teaching "burnt out, washed-up, depressed and leaving the profession".
If teachers work until their late sixties, there could be no room for younger teachers to join schools, said John Griffiths, who has taught at Milton Junior School in Newport for more than two decades.
"Teachers now are working totally unrealistic hours, 60 hours a week, with people working through their lunch and break times," he said. "There's no time to recharge your batteries. It will be very difficult for teachers who should be retiring.
"I signed up as a teacher in 1989 and the pension contract was totally different then," he added.
Torfaen NUT rep Brian Hughes said this generation of teachers are "the guardians of the profession" for the future when it comes to campaigning for better pay and conditions.
"We owe it to future generations to make it as attractive as possible," said Mr Hughes, who teaches at Croesyceiliog. "I am a teacher and I would love to be able to recommend to my students that they go into teaching."
Newport council cabinet member for leisure and culture Debbie Wilcox attended the rally as a teacher of 35 years and an NUT member in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
"I have always taken strike action because if I hadn't the young teachers of today wouldn't have the terms and conditions they have," she said. "This is not a Wales issue but [education secretary] Michael Gove is trying to take away the pay and pensions we have fought so hard to maintain. This is an attack on public services."