Editorial - Khaki's all very well, but Troops to Teachers is a military intervention too far

4th March 2011 at 00:00

Last week the teaching profession endured trial by television. This is similar to the medieval practice of immersing suspected witches in water and finding them innocent only if they drowned, but slightly less fair. At least witches didn't have to endure for 30 minutes or suffer the smug condescension of BBC journalists.

Classroom Warriors by the Panorama team was an investigation into the Government's Troops to Teachers scheme, which aims to fast-track ex-military personnel into schools. "Investigation" in BBC parlance of course means making an assertion, failing to test it against any facts, nodding at important people, and doing extensive fieldwork - well, visiting a couple of schools.

"Britain's troubled schools are holding back the education of thousands of children. So is it time to send in the troops?" intoned a gloomy reporter. Marvel at the economy of that opening remark. It could have been so much more long-winded: "Schools are crap. We know because, er, we read it somewhere and it's almost certainly because teachers do not know how to control a class. Pupils need discipline. Who does discipline well? I'm thinking khaki! Bingo!"

To back up this sophisticated argument, Panorama visited a couple of schools in England run by former servicemen and the US, where Troops to Teachers has run for 15 years. In England the reporter concluded that ex-military types were better at instilling discipline after talking to a handful of staff, one parent and Aaron, aged approximately 15, who told him they were. No data were presented in support, no other schools were compared, no other teaching techniques were assessed. Ofsted scores, which for both schools are satisfactory, and pupil attainment were not mentioned.

In the US, the programme went to a tough inner-city school where ex-service personnel were doing a great job bringing order to young disadvantaged lives. And at last there was some research. A university study found that Troops to Teachers participants not only stayed in teaching twice as long as non-participants, they were also credited for delivering excellent pupil behaviour and performance. However, these findings were based on colleagues' perceptions, not, as the study admitted but Panorama didn't, on "actual student achievement scores" or "value-added data".

Clearly, some ex-services personnel make great teachers. But there is no hard evidence to suggest that they make better or worse teachers than anyone else. Are the US veterans good because they are ex-military or because they are comprehensible role models and tend to come from the same tough neighbourhoods they now teach in? Troops to Teachers isn't good policy, it's low politics. It panders to the prejudice that the profession has lost control of the classroom and the Government is drafting in the no-nonsense brigade to sort it out. It's a gimmick, and a very insulting one.

gerard.kelly@tsleducation.com.

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