Age shouldn’t be a barrier to talent

PUBLISHED: 07:50 03 May 2018

Imran Khan, the new headteacher at Buxton Primary School. Picture: Neil Perry

Imran Khan, the new headteacher at Buxton Primary School. Picture: Neil Perry


Age? It’s just a number however old or young you are, says Rachel Moore. It’s what you do that counts.

At a dinner last month, I sat next to a 74-year-old who played regular hockey, had just enjoyed his annual skiing holiday and is a regular on the golf course.

It hadn’t crossed his mind that age might stop play, although it might have crossed his wife’s more than once. Age was just a number and he was living his life.

Age is just a number too to 27-year-old primary school head teacher Imran Khan, who has taken over leadership of the outstanding Buxton Primary School.

Age isn’t an issue when ability, skills, vision and qualities are right to lead a school and inspire pupils.

It’s an appointment bound to rankle with the gripers and grumblers, though. At an age when 27-year-old’s priorities are paying off their student loans, where does the experience, ability, leadership and insight come from to be in charge?

But young doesn’t mean incapable. I’ve known 27-year-olds with infinitely more wisdom, capability and energy than 57-year-olds, we all have.

Age is no guarantee of anything. It really is simply a number. Years of experience can be over-rated and count for little if little has been learned in them.

Mr Khan’s enthusiasm would certainly win the confidence and the encouragement of retired headteacher Florence Kirkby, aged 96 and fighting today’s council elections in Newcastle as the oldest potential councillor in UK.

Serving her community as a councillor four years off her century birthday isn’t remotely daunting. She is, after all, only four years older than the Queen.

“My view is 80 is the new 40,” she said, with optimism and a spring in her step for her possible future term. Involvement in politics had kept her young and her mind stimulated.

“I don’t feel my age that’s for sure.” Enthusiasm for winning a voice for an ageing population was her fuel, she said.

A conversation between Mr Khan and Mrs Kirkby is one I’d like to eavesdrop. They would learn so much from each.

“I am quite aware of people looking at me and thinking ‘oh he is the headteacher’... But I think to be honest it’s what you do and the impression you make with the children, the parents, the staff and how you take the school forward,” he said. Hear, hear. Young or old, it’s the job you achieve that counts.

Age is no longer a barrier– remember the centenarian skydiver? – but something to cherish and celebrate.

I let out a little cheer when I read Mr Khan’s story in Monday’s EDP, especially the testimonial in the comments below from a parent at one of his previous schools praising his teaching to the hilt.

Primary schools are in desperate need of male head teachers – boys need male teachers for a balance of influence in their early years when most teachers are female.

If there was one thing lacking in my sons’ education up to 11, it was the lack of men teachers. Boys suffer from being judged by women against girls. They always come out worse.

Male teachers understand how boys respond to different teaching methods and often find the school routine, style of learning and sitting still challenging.

Brilliant male teachers who become brilliant head teachers are so rare they should be feted as role models to encourage more graduates to pursue a path man describe as the most satisfying job, shaping adults of tomorrow.

Fast-track leadership doesn’t mean promoted beyond his or her ability because there is no one better. Some people are simply outstanding and inspiring, at 27 and still in their 90s.

Mrs Kirby’s story is a tonic, showing it’s never too. In an ageing population, the elderly need representation.

Increasingly, people in their 80s and 90s are achieving what others believe is extraordinary but what they take in their stride.

Last year, I watched a 93-year-old Oxford lecturer – who still teaches – speak at the funeral of his only child, reading his notes from an iphone after driving himself to Norwich.

Age is a number, life is an attitude and state of mind, and that’s what we must focus on

Giving up and let life pass you by is the real crime. Lacking confidence and holding back in fear of being too young or too old is a real sadness and waste.

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