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Stand by your desks: the sergeant major's on his way

Soldiers will be encouraged to become schoolteachers under a new scheme that could allow them to begin training without having the normal qualifications.

Plans for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) project have emerged after the Government was urged to copy the US scheme, Troops to Teachers, which helps 1,500 service leavers to retrain each year to work in American inner city schools.

Of the 25,000 people who leave the three armed services in Britain each year - including 7,000 officers and senior NCOs - only around 60 become teachers.

Peter Cross, who served with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in the first Gulf war and the Falklands war, and is chief executive of the charity Skill Force, said: "Many of them become lorry drivers or security guards when they have so much more they could offer to schools. That is a great sadness."

The MoD already provides service leavers with a resettlement pack that includes advice on teaching careers.

But Mr Cross and other former soldiers believe a key reason why far fewer members of the military retrain as teachers in Britain than the United States is that they are deterred from postgraduate training. British soldiers are less likely to have university degrees than American military personnel.

This week the MoD said it had been working on an initiative which would "encourage service leavers without the normal academic qualifications necessary to enter teacher training to become teachers". A spokesman said that the project, which it was developing with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, was still at an early stage.

The MoD is also one of a range of employers involved in the government's Transition to Teaching programme, along with KPMG and AstraZeneca. Its aim is to find science, maths, engineering and technology teachers from industry.

Last week the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank, called for a British version of Troops to Teachers.

The report was backed by Lord Guthrie, former chief of the defence staff, who said a UK version would "provide youths with role models who understand discipline and self-restraint at the time in their lives when they need it most". US schools involved in the scheme were surveyed in 2005. More than 90 per cent of their headteachers said the former service people were more effective than other teachers at classroom instruction, managing behaviour, and improving grades.

In Skill Force, the British initiative launched in 2000, pairs of ex-service people are sent into schools for one day a week to work with Year 10 and 11 pupils, normally those who are disaffected or at risk of exclusion. Independent evaluations of the charitable scheme suggest it has helped significantly to cut expulsions as well as gained the teenagers ASDAN qualifications and Duke of Edinburgh awards.

"I think it's easier for kids to respect a 40-year-old sergeant major than someone who is about their age and straight out of teacher training college," Mr Cross said.

www.skillforce.org.

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