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 interested 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.
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. Interestingly. he seems to have rowed back on this approach because his own ideas are so manifestly untenable.