Careers switchers are to be welcomed in classrooms – but they must be properly qualified and trained

Janet Downs's picture
Those who switch careers to become teachers bring experience and skills gained in previous employment to the classroom. But experience and skills alone are not enough – career switchers need to be qualified and properly trained.

Lance Bolton (see Department for Education press release) is one such career switcher. After leaving the Coldstream Guards he did a one-year course which allowed him to enter a three year teaching training university course. He will shortly start work as a design and technology teacher..

He believes he’ll be able to demonstrate “the importance of teamwork, discipline, punctuality, respect, looking people in the eye.” - all skills and experience which he learnt in his previous employment.

It’s likely that all career switchers from whatever background – professional, managerial, clerical, public service and so on – will endorse these qualities. And it would be quite difficult to find existing teachers who dismiss them as unimportant.

The Government, however, appears to think that only those with a forces background will be able to promote these qualities in the classroom. So it’s announced new schemes to fast-track ex-forces personnel into schools.

Those with degrees will be able to take the same route as anyone else with a degree – a PGCE – so nothing new there. Degree-qualified ex-forces personnel can also enter Schools Direct*. Again, this is the same route available to anyone with a degree.

Access to teaching will also be offered to ex-military personnel without degrees but with relevant forces experience such as instructing or coaching. These will be able to apply for a 2-year, school-based training programme which leads to a degree as well as Qualified Teacher Status.

But what exactly will the degree be? It can’t be a subject degree – Maths, English and so on – because the candidate won’t have studied the subject to sufficient depth. It can’t really be Bachelor of Education because that’s an honours degree awarded after three to four years full-time study. Of course, undergraduate credits can be brought forward from previous study but that applies to everyone.

The danger here is that such fast-track degrees will be seen as dumbed-down. This was not how Lance Bolton entered teaching. He did the same as other career-switchers with no previous qualifications – an Access to Higher Education course following by University.

There is no reason why ex-forces personnel should be fast-tracked – it may even be counterproductive if they were viewed as “Qualification-lite”. So why is the Government so keen to promote what could end up as second-class teaching training for ex-military personnel with no previous qualifications?

It says it’s inspired by Troops To Teachers in the USA but applicants for this programme must have a baccalaureate or advanced degree. Priority is given to those with “educational or military experience in science, mathematics, special education, or vocational/technical subjects”.

Defence Minister, Philip Hammond, said “A career in the armed forces provides skills and experience you cannot gain anywhere else.” But the skills and experience described by Lance Bolton are found in all jobs – they are not confined to those with a military background.


*Schools Direct is not without criticism. However, it’s not the purpose of this thread to discuss the merits or otherwise of Schools Direct. This is likely to be the subject of a separate thread posted at a later date.

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