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

Francis Gilbert's picture
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.

  • 2010 4944 applications – 560 places

  • 2011 to date – 4151 applications – 737 places

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. The Skillforce 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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Urban Head's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 22:17

Ex Ministers to teachers?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 22:30

Sounds like a better plan than the ones that Gove currently has on offer!
On a serious note, I do think that if Gove and Gibb spent only a week teaching in a local school then education policy would be different!

eyebeams's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 23:32

I think if Gibb spent any time in any school it might be a good thing.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 07:43

I watched the Panorama programme (28 Feb) about putting troops in classrooms. The ex-military personnel featured were all good teachers. However, it doesn't follow that all good teachers are ex-military personnel since many good teachers are not ex-forces. Neither does it follow that all ex-military personnel will be good teachers.

If someone leaving the armed forces wishes to enter teaching then there should be no impediment provided:

(a) he/she has the requisite qualifications before commencing teacher training (Gove has said he wants all trainee teachers to have a good degree),
(b) is subject to the same training as recruits who are not ex-soldiers.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 07:55

Tom Burkard's comment is illuminating - he had the freedom in the Territorials to teach according to his strengths and not according to orders from above. He had his core curriculum (ie to train volunteers to become soldiers) but then had the flexibility to deliver the programme as he saw fit.

This is the answer: have a core curriculum which applies to every school but then give ALL teachers the freedom to choose how they teach. This would cost very little and would restore to teachers the professionalism that has been taken from them by years of political interference.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 22:10

I agree with your last comment Janet. I liked Burkhard even though he got a bit cross with me; he saw the importance of good teaching.

Steve Palmer's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 01:33

Having stumbled upon thIs by chance I felt I had to comment. I am not a teacher and do not pretend to know a great deal about how your profession operates. However, I was let down by your profession, leaving school with no qualifications and absolutely no confidence at all.

After working as a labourer on a building site for a few years I joined the army. It changed my life. I served for 6 years and left as a NCO. I learnt more (about life, about myself and academically) than I ever did at school.

When I did leave the army it was to go to university, where I got a decent science degree, before going on to qualify as a chartered surveyor.

The fact is that those giuys who become NCOs or Warrant Officers spend a considerable part of thier army career teaching, it is they who teach soldiers all of the skills that soldiers need. Teaching is not some new venture for them, indeed if we are considering Senior NCOs or Warrant Officers they will have 15+ years practical experience of teaching. So they are not comparable with inexperienced/untrained entrants.

Not only that but as most will have been involved with recruit training at some point in thier career they are the very people who change the lives of those many youngsters who, like me, are let down by the teaching profession and seek a career in the armed forces.

It is NCOs, rather than officers, who do the teaching in the forces so your experience of lack of interest via the Officers Association does not suprise me. Ex Officers are very likely to have little interest in becoming teachers. Ex NCOs are the likely source of Ex Forces teachers. I also have no reluctance in saying that they are unlikely to require the same amount of training that new entrants from elsewhere do, because teaching is something they already have a great deal of experience of.
I should add that I have no interest in teaching, I am a charterted surveyor and very happy in that profession (as well as better paid than I would be as a teacher). So I won't be taking up any "troops to teachers" offers.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 08:59

Thanks for this. Your comments and Tom Burkard's views made me see that my personal experience of seeing a soldier struggle to teach made me quite blinkered; I think you're right, there's obviously a lot certain ex-army have to offer.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 09:42

What Steven Palmer demonstrates is that there are within the armed forces people with a talent for teaching whose skills would transfer into the classroom. However, Mr Gove seems to be under the impression that just being ex-forces is enough. He also makes it clear that he thinks they will bring discipline to the nation's school, discipline which he thinks is lacking.

The skills that would make an ex-forces person a good teacher are the same skills demonstrated by good teachers without a forces background.

Mick's picture
Sun, 10/04/2011 - 22:51

I am a 40 yr old man. No different than any other 40 year old i suppose, except that since the age of 16, I have been a soldier.
In 24 years, i have climbled the ranks. It has cost me literally 'blood, sweat and tears', (to coin a phrase) to reach my current rank. WO1 Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). I have applied and been accepted for a commission, that is to say that in June 12, I will assume the rank of Captain. Not bad from a gobby, rude, arrogant and particular violent young 16 year ole from the rank of Private right?

In 24 years, I have witnessed some astounding things from horrific incidents to terrific achievements of leadership, cunning and teamwork. I have served 7 tours in Northern Ireland, I was in the Gulf War (Op Granby), Iraq (Op Telic) twice, Afghanistan (Op Herrick) twice, not to mention the odd smattering of UN tours here and there. My trade? Infantry.

In 2009 I was awarded the MBE for work in Iraq and Afghanistan related to countering Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's), noteably the teaching of the electronic equipment we use to counter the Radio control initiation and the formulation of tactics to be used against those that are not, both passive and active.

So all is rosey in 'my house', again, to coin a phrase. Commission around the corner, 'money for old rope' of a job that i not only know, I helped create. 44k a year in a reccesion is not to be sniffed at and IMHO if you get that sort of wage by a secure employer, grab a hold and don't let go!

Not in my case.

I will be turning down my commission.
I will be leaving the Army after essentially 25 years service.
Why? Because I want to 'help' you all, teach our young people of today what it is to have the freedom of choice, of selection, of learning. I don't have a degree, i was lucky i didn't go to prison aged 15, I have a few qualifications i have done whilst serving, including a level 5 in Proffesional Management and a Level 7 in Counter Terrorism and International Policing, but ultimately not a degree, in say, i don't know, sociology? You may laugh, but you ALL know there are teachers with such degrees that bear no relation to their chosen subject or the career in general. The 'degree' status shows that you have shown the ability to commit to a learning program that involves your own learning, the evidence of retention, speculation and the interpretation of your own conjecture in relation to the subject matter. I have no degree, & i know that!

I will be enrolling in the Troops to Teachers Program and I honestly believe that I will be a good one! In the coming months, I will sit the A level in English and Maths. Guess what?
I'll pass too, not just a pass, but straight A's!
I will then use my ELC to qualify me in an area such as ICT or some other skill lacking in your proffession currently.

Not only will i be an effective teacher, I will be a Headmasters 'dream'. My pupils will not be unruely or disrespectfull (as you endure every day and feel the requirement to 'strike' as a result of it). I have witnessed Teachers shouting a pupils (I am a governor of a Secondary school), i won't have to.

You don't like the idea of Troops in your classroom and fairplay i say, i respect that. but you better get used to it, because i assure you, where you shout to get results, i don't have to.


Simon Walker's picture
Tue, 19/04/2011 - 19:58

I too, am due to leave the Armed Forces (Infantry) in 2013 after 24 years. I will also be applying for teacher training.
In my 24 years i have also experienced many highs and lows and during this time, had to train,manage and administer sections, platoons & company's. I am a SNCO instuctor with managerial and leadership quals and PTLLS level 4.
I decided to make the move to teaching whilst on a Cadet training post. During that time i spent the best part of 2 years teaching secondary school pupils leadership, the basics of instuction and self reliance, amongst others, and it was during these 2 years that i spoke to many teachers who said we need more ex-military teaching as we have more experience of life and a better disciplined approach in general than some NQT's. I'm sure some who read this will disagree.
Anyway, I hope to pursue my goal of teaching pretty soon and i must say that i'm looking forward to it.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 20/04/2011 - 05:46

Thanks to Simon, Mick and Steve for telling us about their experiences and thoughts, clearly showing that ex-soldiers have a great deal to offer in the classroom.

Stuart's picture
Sat, 07/05/2011 - 20:25

Steve, Mick & Simon. I am still currently serving as a SSgt in the RAPTC with 14 years service to date. I am considering an early career change due to injuries and enrolling in the soldiers to teachers programme. However I know nothing about it and dont know where to find information regarding it. Any chance you can sign post me in the right direction?

John Grindrod's picture
Fri, 17/06/2011 - 19:45

I am currently serving in the RAF, I have been instructing and teaching since I passed out of trade training 21 years ago. School was ok and I had some inspirational teachers, however some were absolutely rubbish!

I beleive the inspirational teachers drove me on to become all that I am today. I completed a degree at the age of 42 and really enjoyed the experience, this was all done while severing my country and raising a family.

I now have a dream of teaching and passing on all that I have to offer. I have life experience and a desire to engage with todays young and hopefully inspire them to reach for the stars.

The pay is not an issue or important, however job satisfaction is! What more satisfaction could I get than inspiring someone to become all they can? I am not commissioned and never will be, and would also suggest that the target market if this project gets off the ground should be none commissioned who have gone onto acheive!

For some reason teachers get very protective about children joining the Forces, remember that we all have to go to school by law, but nobody made us join up!

We volunteered!

Most if not all go on to bigger and better things because of their time in the services. The forces often take people from poor and harsh back grounds. Then give them the opportunity to make something of themselves.

Please do not let your preconceptions of us get in the way of this valuable and untapped resource, we have something to offer - because we want too! We are not the answer to all the problems in school, but I am sure we can contribute and make a valuable difference!

You never know we might even inspire some of the teachers!!!!

Regards JG

darren's picture
Thu, 04/08/2011 - 08:56

I stumbled across this buy pure chance while looking for more infomation on how service personel can get into teaching..

Im struck firstly by the lack of actual information. This page offers no real help to any one other than personal opinion. If i was carrying out market research this would be a comment of thanks,
Its not.!

Although we ex-service as you say do get grants to help us change career paths we are not garented a job at the end of it!. Also considering how much it costs to train a soldier a couple of thousand pounds to help move them into a new job it not much. The MOD lost 6.5 billion pounds of equipment of your five people who have signed up to the scheme the moneys are hardly comparable?.

I could list my past career profile telling tales of wonderment however IT DOESNT HELP ANYONE!.

Kind regards

Hal Taylor's picture
Fri, 14/10/2011 - 12:08

I am an ex Royal Signals NCO for whom the army offered a lifeline and chance of betterment during a recession. I completed a degree which was done part-time while working full time from one of the top UK universities and I am trying to apply to do a PGCE so I can qualify as a teacher but I have to say that the universities are not helpful when it comes to dealing with my applications or even answering questions. I am waiting for the Troops to Teachers program to start and I know I will be a good teacher just as I know there are some excellent ex-soldiers who will also be good examples, good mentors and good educators in schools.

I have utmost respect for anyone that pulls themselves up by their bootstraps to better themselves and who started in the gutter due to no fault of their own. I cannot talk for all ex-soldiers but only for myself, teaching is one of those professions reserved for the very rich who can afford to spend years without earning any money and most of them will have children and families of their own to support and teaching would remain an impossible dream for many. I welcome this opportunity if it ever starts and wish everyone who participates in it success.

James Draper's picture
Tue, 20/12/2011 - 11:58

I have followed the troops for teachers debate keenly as I am interseted in this avenue, however I am neither surprised at the lack of progress or the help offered. The truth is if your interested you finance yourself. The idea came out to try an camoflage the redudancies that are rolling out MoD wide, as a technical Army officer I will be out next Aug 2012 and if some is in place then I will eat my hat. The sad truth is it is a very good smoke and mirrors game played by all politicians and senior civil servants. One has the bright idea to hide some bad news then the other lets it die on the vine. I would love to see it happen and get some backing however I wont hold my breadth, as I am used to two faced self serving politicians and senior civil servants.

James Middleton's picture
Tue, 27/03/2012 - 15:36

I want teach. I am currently serving in Afghanistan and can not find much information on the 'Troops to teachers' program. I don't have a degree and without financial help I can see no way to support my family whilst I went back to Uni.

Gary H's picture
Sun, 05/01/2014 - 15:03

I went to a tough boys secondary modern in the 1960s that was high achieving and was one of the few offering O levels alongside CSE. Due to having brilliant tough but fair teachers (many were ex-army officers) that were looked on as gods by the boys and our parents, I came away with 6 good Os including maths an english.

After a 24 year forces career, much of it as a technical instructor and armed with a 2.1 OU degree in maths I was quickly snapped up when I was discharged to start a GTP course in an excellent comp in 2001 when there was a big maths teacher shortage. Big shock! Most of the disciplinary back up had all but completely disappeared. No time to deal properly with disciplinary issues, a laughable detention system, and most importantly, little support back up from parents and senior management.

Forces personnel work in a strict, disciplined environment (as schools used to be) and although will make very good role models as school teachers, I doubt that the majority will thrive or even survive in the modern school as I didn't. I went in with the same enthusiasm and will to make a difference as these forces and ex-forces persons posting here. However I wish them all luck and hope they may be ones that manage to make a career out of teaching.

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