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Battleground manoeuvres exercised in the classroom

Tony Kell is a former corporal who has served in some of the world's most inhospitable environments: Iraq during the first Gulf War and in Afghanistan in 2001. But these days he is facing a different challenge: the classroom.

Instead of fighting with the Coldstream Guards and the Royal Engineers, the 38-year-old tackles a roomful of teenagers at a time as a trainer and assessor in plumbing at City of Sunderland College.

More students may soon be knuckling down to Army discipline as Protocol National, further education's biggest recruitment firm, launches a campaign to encourage former servicemen and women to enlist in colleges.

Experiences such as laying on water supplies for the Army in Kabul gave Mr Kell the plumbing skills he is now passing on. Military service also proved good training for the demands of education in other ways, he said. "My wife's favourite phrase is, `You never worked this hard in the Army.'

"It's a battleground: you've got to be one step ahead. But I enjoy imparting knowledge. It gives you a sense of achievement if someone turns round and says, `I know that because you told me.' It's about personal pride.

"You've got to have the confidence to stand up in front of school-leavers. But in the Army, I was teaching officers. You've got to have the confidence to make yourself heard."

Some of his favourite experiences in teaching have been supporting people who were struggling, such as the dyslexic student who had not achieved good grades at school but who passed his plumbing exams, and the teenager who said he was only interested in starting fights on nights out and then became a committed student.

But Mr Kell's Army training means he can be a strict disciplinarian too. "I'm a big, hairy squaddie who teaches like a big, hairy squaddie," he said.

In the past, former soldiers had sometimes been steered into predictable or undemanding jobs, so the effort to help them pass on their skills in teaching was particularly welcome, he said.

"The Red Book you get when you leave (the armed forces) has a description of what job you can do, such as being a security guard," Mr Kell said. "Some security guards love their jobs, but after you've been in uniform for 10 years, you're not necessarily going to want to jump into another."

After an approach by the armed forces, Protocol National has begun visiting military barracks and working with the Career Transition Partnership - the forces' support service helping former soldiers into civvy street jobs - to find veterans ready for action in colleges. With a ready-made supply of engineers and logistics experts, the company believes the armed forces are an ideal source of lecturers and assessors in shortage subjects.

Many of them are also likely to have experience as trainers, not to mention the ability and authority to control rowdy teenagers.

Jan Wakefield, workforce development manager for Protocol National, said: "We wanted to dispel the myth that they couldn't get into FE. They just didn't understand how to do it, and needed to be made aware of all the different things they could contribute.

"First and foremost, it's the training they've had. They've got a wealth of knowledge and experience in training their men. And that's something FE can draw on."

Some former servicemen and women have always found their way into teaching in further education, but this is the first time they have been targeted in a recruitment campaign.

Ms Wakefield said they had arranged for colleges to train people out of the forces in the certificate of education or as assessors.

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