The omens don’t look good for Gove’s Troops To Teachers programme

1 March 2011
Local Schools Network
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Guess how many military personnel have applied to become teachers as part of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme this year? Five. And guess how many have been hired? Zero. The Teach First figures for last year are similarly dismal with eleven military personnel applying, and two being hired. To put these figures in context, this is the latest data on applications to Teach First for 2010 and 2011.

In other words, ex-military personnel will form an absolutely minuscule proportion of the Teach First workforce in the coming years.

This does not bode well for Michael Gove’s much vaunted Troops To Teachers programme which he put in the White Paper in order to bring “discipline” to our schools. The White Paper says: “We will also encourage Armed Forces leavers to become teachers, by developing a ‘Troops to Teachers’ programme which will sponsor service leavers to train as teachers… We will encourage Teach First to work with the services as they develop Teach Next, so that service leavers are able to take advantage of new opportunities to move into education.”

As yet, the plans for this programme have not been formulated and are very much at the planning stage. Teach First has no connection with Troops to Teachers but they do have a relationship with the Officers’ Association whereby they market our teaching opportunities to graduates leaving the armed forces. Materials include tailored fliers and posters that draw parallels between the leadership qualities of officers and inspirational teachers. Take-up for their programme I believe is a good indicator of what’s to come.

It appears that the reasons why ex-soldiers don’t want to become teachers are fairly simple: the money isn’t good enough. A demobbed officer can command large salaries in other industries and professions, such as banking and consultancy.

This said, other programmes which recruit ex-army on a part-time basis to help vulnerable children appear to be successful. TheSkillforce programme has been awarded £1.5m to extend its programme.

Having written a recent Guardian article on the problems connected with having ex-soldiers in the classroom, I was invited to speak at a Teach First debate a couple of weeks ago about these issues with Tom Burkard, Author of the 2008 Centre for Policy Studies report ‘Troops to Teachers‘ and James Darley, Director, Graduate Recruitment, Teach First. The title of the debate was: ‘Troops to Teachers – Why Troops, not Dolphin Trainers?’ drawing on a comment made by one of our ambassadors in a recent survey on the government White Paper: “There is absolutely no reason to believe that soldiers, just by virtue of the fact that they are soldiers, will make better teachers than anyone else. But any scheme that gets more people to consider the profession is worthwhile. Sous Chefs to Teachers; Dolphin Trainers to Teachers, Schooner Pilots to Teachers – whatever gets more people to teach works for me.”

I had three main points. Firstly, I felt it was unfair to give ex-army preferential treatment above other groups such as single mothers, other career-changers etc  by providing them funding and less stringent entry requirements for teacher training. Secondly, there may well be problems with the different approaches taken by the military and the best teachers. The military demands obedience to authority whereas the best teachers encourage democratic debate, the devising of shared rules and communal problem-solving. Thirdly, the programme is being presented by the government in such a way that denigrates teachers like me in the profession by suggesting that we need to call in the military to solve the discipline crisis in our schools.

Tom Burkard took exception to my stereotyping of the military as being like “barking sergeant majors”. The discussion got quite heated, but by the end of it I felt he had persuaded me that I was guilty of stereotyping the military unfairly in this regard.

Burkard is an interesting guy who has the ear of the current government. He  explained his suggestion to bring the US Troops to Teachers programme to the UK, saying : “As an NCO instructor in the Territorial Army in the late 1980s, I had far more freedom to teach as I saw fit than I did working as a teacher in the late 1990s.” He is Director of The Promethean Trust, a Norwich based charity for dyslexic children. His main academic interest is the interface between reading theory and classroom practice, and he has written numerous articles for academic journals and the press. He contributed to the Daily Telegraph Good Schools guide and is the co-author of the Sound Foundation’s reading and spelling programmes, which are rapidly gaining recognition as the most cost-effective means of preventing reading failure. He is the author of (with Martin Turner) Reading Fever: Why phonics must come first (CPS, 1996), The End of Illiteracy? The Holy Grail of Clackmannanshire(CPS, 1999), After the Literacy Hour: may be the best plan win(CPS, 2004), A World First for West Dunbartonshire (CPS, 2006), Troops to Teachers (2008), Ticking the Right Boxes(2009), School Quangos (CPS, 2009) and (with Tom Cleford)Cutting the Children’s Plan (CPS, 2010). He is a member of the NAS/UWT and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Buckingham.

We ended the debate by shaking hands. I agreed I would go and see Skillforce at work soon.

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