Education secretary Michael Gove has spoken repeatedly of his desire to see more soldiers move from the front line to the classroom, with their discipline and courage making them ideal teaching candidates.
But despite widespread interest from those in the armed forces, the numbers starting training courses have remained stubbornly low. More than 6,000 service leavers have called the Teaching Line information service since March last year, but only 132 have been accepted to teacher training courses during the same period, TES can reveal.
One of the major stumbling blocks has been insufficient qualifications, with 60 per cent of those expressing interest in the profession not having a degree, meaning they cannot join existing courses.
In response, the government is preparing to launch a new programme next year, aimed in large part at people leaving the armed forces who are not graduates.
It is estimated that 180 service leavers will take part in the two-year "troops to teachers" programme. There will be 75 places for non-graduates, who will study for top-up qualifications in order to qualify for a degree while training, and a further 30 places will be for non-graduates on a vocational "pathway", leading to a qualification to teach in colleges and further education. The remaining places will be for graduates.
The new course will help to improve the recruitment of "the highest quality" service leavers, Department for Education officials hope.
The move is the latest attempt by the government to promote careers in teaching to people leaving the Army, Navy and RAF. Currently 50 places on the Graduate Teaching Programme (GTP) are available exclusively to service leavers, but some universities running those courses have struggled to fill them.
Alison Winson, PGCE secondary course leader at the University of Worcester, said not having the correct entry requirements was a barrier to service leavers getting into teaching.
"If they don't have a degree there isn't any short route into teaching now," she said. "I know the government is trying to address this."
At the University of Nottingham, just two of the seven GTP places for former troops have been filled. "Every year we have a trickle of applications from service leavers. Some people get on courses and some don't," said Dr Lindsey Smethem, the course leader. "The reasons are their qualifications, suitability for working in schools and experience."
At the University of Southampton, GTP deputy director Jan Lewis advises service leavers interested in going into teaching to get work experience in schools. "People phone up to enquire about starting a teaching course in the future, but they often have not yet got the qualifications needed and they want to know what they need," she said. "They need extra guidance and advice along the way to help them make informed decisions."
A DfE spokeswoman said the details of the new scheme were still being developed. "We envisage that the programme will be delivered in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and will provide routes to teaching for both graduates and undergraduates, subject to eligibility criteria," she said.
A major change
A 41-year-old former major, Lawrence Crabb, is studying at the University of Worcester to be a teacher.
He trained soldiers as part of his job and was already familiar with the way schools operate because he is a parent governor and his wife is a teacher.
"I always enjoyed the teaching posts I had in the Army. I liked the environment and 'buzz' from teaching," said Mr Crabb, who is training at St Bartholomew's C of E Primary School in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire.
"The difference I've found is that I don't get any time to myself in school, whereas in the Army you are completely in charge of what's going on.
"Having two school-age children has helped me, and my experience in the Army has helped to give me confidence, flexibility and the ability to plan."