Troops into teachers or children into soldiers

Last week the government announced it was going to create a route to allow ex-military personnel to become teachers. Essentially, for graduates in the military, the route will be the same as for other graduates, but with more cash, and possibly some ring-fenced places on either one or all of the routes into the classroom.

The main interest in the media was in the training to be offered to non-graduates. As the non-graduate scheme envisages the bulk of the trainee’s time during training will be spent in school, presumably it is assumed that sufficient subject knowledge will have been acquired during a military career to make the time spending acquiring a degree unnecessary. Now I might be persuaded that a physical education instructor; a chaplain – if any enter the forces these days without degrees; or even a musician, might have acquired enough specialist subject knowledge to teach their subject in a secondary school. But, outside of areas where the work in the forces is at least congruent in some ways with what is taught in schools I cannot see how military life would prepare someone for subject teaching in schools. Many former military staff members have for a long while made worthwhile contributions to the further education sector where their specialist vocational skills can be in high demand. Perhaps the government is thinking that many on the ‘troops to teachers’ programme will work in the burgeoning 14-18 sector of UTCs and studio schools.

Much has been made of the attitude to discipline those with a military background might bring into schools, but discipline in a uniformed service, where a refusal to obey a lawful order might result in a charge, is not the same as either helping a frustrated teenager act out their angst against society during a bad day at school or even just any class or youngsters that feels like playing up a new teacher to test the boundaries of their authority. This is not to deny the great strides the forces have taken in recent years in moving away from a ‘do as I say’ mentality. However, war does require obedience to orders, in a way that society more generally has moved away from. And in the end, the armed forces training is designed to prepare personnel for armed conflict.

Nevertheless, the BBC quoted David Laws as saying that military values such as leadership, discipline, motivation, and teamwork would benefit children.

“We want to capture the ethos and talents of those leaving the armed forces and bring this experience into teaching. We know that our highly-skilled servicemen and women can inspire young people and help raise educational attainment.”

But, perhaps more worrying was the section of the DfE press notice that said:

“We are already working to bring military ethos into our education system to help raise standards and tackle issues such as behaviour. In June the Prime Minister announced a £10.85m expansion of the school-based cadets to create around 100 more units by 2015. Extending the scheme in state schools will allow even more young people to benefit from the life-changing opportunities that cadet forces offer.”

At a time when the armed forces are being severely pruned, perhaps it would have been better for any uniformed units created in schools to have been based upon a civilian service model, and not on a military model dreamed up after the South African war over a century ago. As a means of instilling values such as, discipline, motivation, and teamwork it would bring the same benefits to children without the militaristic overtones. Next year we will be remembering the foundation of army formations such as the Glasgow Boys’ Brigade (16th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry) Battalion as one of the many ‘Pals’ battalions formed at the start of World War One. How far the cadet forces aided recruitment in 1914 is an interesting discussion point.

By all means let’s ensure discipline in schools is as good as it can be, but not at the price of creating a militaristic culture in our schools. So, I welcome ex-service personnel who want to become teachers, just as I welcome those from other walks of life, but schools must no longer be expected to become the training grounds for our next generation of the armed forces. Let it be an adult decision to take the Queen’s shilling.

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