Tory attempts to militarize our classrooms prove an abject failure

Francis Gilbert's picture
 4
Last year, the Coalition government made a concerted attempt to "militarize" our classrooms by setting up a "Troops to Teachers" programme, which aimed to recruit demobbed soldiers into the classroom. The Daily Mail trumpeted this news by saying:

"Hundreds of battle-hardened former troops will be recruited to the teaching profession under a radical plan to improve classroom discipline and drive out 'trendy' learning methods encouraged under Labour. Those without a degree will have tuition fees paid by the taxpayer to do a two-year training course under the 'Troops to Teachers' programme. Officers with degrees could be in classrooms within weeks."

This article encapsulated the thinking behind the programme I think; the government wanted to change the identity of the teaching profession by giving it a "military" image rather than the "trendy" one that the right-wing feels represents the profession as a whole at the moment.

A Parliamentary question asked by MP Michael Fallon yielded this answer from Education Minister Nick Gibb a few weeks ago:  "There are 10 participants on the current programme, 20 more confirmed to start the next programme and a further 20 at the application stage." In other words, in the next few years, no more than 60 ex-soldiers will become teachers. Hardly, the hundreds expected to appear before our pupils within a matter of weeks.

The fact is the majority of ex-soldiers are not interested in becoming teachers for a variety of reasons. Talking to officers, I've got the impression that teaching is far too poorly paid and lacking in status for the "top" military personnel; most of them enter lucrative jobs using the sophisticated networks that the higher tiers of the military have built up over centuries.  The lower echelons of the military aren't that keen either; either they don't feel qualified or they just don't fancy what they know is a difficult job.

This was very much Gove's pet project. He said, when launching the project last year:  "I can't think of anything better than getting people who know all about self-discipline, teamwork and a sense of pride into our schools...” Many of Gove's policies -- from the E-Bacc to his love of independent schools -- are driven and informed by nostalgia and the Troops To Teachers programme was no exception. He had, no doubt, visions of the 1940s and 50s when many thousands of ex-soldiers entered the profession after fighting in the Second World War. Back then, soldiers undoubtedly shaped the identity of the profession, giving it a military edge. One only has to think of Morrissey's great lyric from Headmaster Ritual which talks about a sadistic teacher doing the "military two-step down the nape" of a pupil's neck to realise that many pupils perceived teachers in a military light. This image was nurtured by corporal punishment. Mercifully though, both these things have changed now; the public doesn't view teaching as a "military" profession and hitting children is now illegal. Teaching is primarily about learning -- not frightening and subjugating children.

The Troops To Teachers policy failed miserably because it was based on fantasy rather than the facts. Gove used it a year ago as a way of making the profession look completely incompetent and in need of military intervention, but interestingly he seems to have rowed back on this approach because his solutions are so manifestly untenable.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 09:01

The "Troops to Teachers" programme also chimes with Government rhetoric that independent schools are better than state ones. The argument goes like this:

"Independent schools are better than state ones*. Many independent schools have a Combined Cadet Force (CCF). Therefore, state schools will be better if they, too, have a CCF."

This argument was put forward by Dr Anthony Seldon in his 2010 manifesto about education (discussed on the other thread about the Shakespeare initiative in state schools).

*UK state schools actually outperform UK independent schools when socio-economic background is factored in (see other thread for further information and links).

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 09:48

It's a good point that many private schools have their CCFs, while most state schools don't. Private schools still provide the majority of officers in the army. The City of London school, a private school in the City, has a big CCF and very strong links with the army. It's another example of how many private schools are at the heart of the "establishment", having the ear of the military, top universities, top professions such as law and medicine. I think private schools like their "military" identity whereas many state schools are uneasy about this now.

JimC's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 09:55

"*UK state schools actually outperform UK independent schools when socio-economic background is factored in (see other thread for further information and links)."

Could you explain, in sensible English, how this is done. Presumably some form of grade inflation takes place but who decides the level to which grades should be inflated to compensate for social inequality.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 10:45

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) factors in socio-economic background in order to judge how schools actually perform rather than how they are perceived to perform. In other words, OECD take account of schools' intake. OECD do this by using the Index of Economic Social and Cultural Status (ESCS) which "captures a number of aspects of a student's family and home background".

http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5401

OECD research confirms that socio-economic differences among pupils translate into a particularly strong impact on student learning outcomes. That's not to say that school systems can't do better at raising the performance of disadvantaged pupils. That's been discussed on this site many times. One example is here: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/socio-economic-disadvantag...

Back to the original question about how UK state schools outperform private ones - OECD analysed the 2009 PISA tests and concluded:

"On average across OECD countries, privately managed schools display a performance advantage of 30 score points on the PISA reading scale (in the UK even of 62 score points). HOWEVER (my caps), once the socio-economic background of students and schools is accounted for, public [state-funded, state-controlled] schools come out with a slight advantage of 7 score points, on average across OECD countries (in the UK public [state-funded, state-controlled] schools outscore privately managed schools by 20 score points once the socio-economic background is accounted for)."

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/8/46624007.pdf

PISA in Focus 7 "Private Schools, Who Benefits?" discusses the supposed advantage of private schools over state schools. It does so succinctly and in clear, "sensible" English.

http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/6/43/48482894.pdf

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