Troops to Teachers launches its call to arms
The idea of getting soldiers to swap the front line for the classroom has long been promoted by ministers as a way of instilling discipline in schools. Now that theory is to be put to the test: the first phase of the much-discussed Troops to Teachers programme will begin this August.
Former servicemen and women are being invited to apply for 50 places reserved for them on Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) courses around the country, it has been revealed. They will earn a salary of #163;15,700 to start teaching children instantly, and their course fees will be paid using government training grants.
But the scheme will only be open to former military staff with degrees who are able to teach modern foreign languages, maths, physics or chemistry. Just nine of the available places are for primary teachers.
The news of guaranteed teacher training places comes as extensive Ministry of Defence cuts start to bite, leaving thousands of troops looking for work. The armed forces must lose 17,000 service personnel by 2015.
Dr Lindsey Smethem, course leader for the GTP at the University of Nottingham, which is offering seven of the funded secondary places, said that a key challenge would be to "debunk the myth" that military people can "automatically command authority in the classroom".
"It would be simplistic to assume that, just because someone can command authority in the armed services, they would get the same respect in schools," she said.
Trainees will receive bespoke support in how to make the transition from the military to the classroom by learning to build positive relationships and adapting to a different culture, Dr Smethem added.
Warrant officer class 2 Deborah Bashton, a marine engineer in the Royal Navy based at HM Naval Base in Portsmouth, was the first person to be recruited by the University of Nottingham to start training this August.
She is leaving the forces after 22 years to teach maths, having recently completed an Open University degree in maths and economics, which took eight years.
"I've wanted to teach for a long time, but this is the first time it has been possible because I have my degree now," she said. "In the forces, you are always encouraged to stand up and talk in front of people, so I think that does prepare me to some extent.
"Above all, I think I can bring a really positive role model, as someone who's been out there and done work and wants to bring that experience into the classroom. The military instils certain values that stay with you even after you leave."
Ms Bashton, who will take part in parades to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee before leaving the forces, will follow the GTP while working at Landau Forte College in Derby.
Education secretary Michael Gove has spoken out previously about the benefits of former military staff working in the classroom, praising their ability to improve discipline and provide strong role models.
Ministers have been formulating Troops to Teachers since it was announced in the education white paper in 2010, but details of plans to introduce undergraduate and unqualified "instructor" routes into teaching are yet to be revealed.
Last year, the government awarded #163;1.5 million to allow for the expansion of SkillForce, a charity that sends ex-military mentors into schools to work with pupils who are at risk of dropping out.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that plans to attract "high-quality service leavers" to schools had so far only focused on increasing applications to existing teacher training providers.
He added that an extension of Troops to Teachers to be announced later this year would stimulate recruitment through other routes. "The detail of the programme is being developed, but we envisage that the programme will provide routes to teaching for both graduates and undergraduates, subject to eligibility criteria."
Earlier this year, a thinktank suggested that the armed forces should set up a network of schools in the most deprived areas to stop children going off the rails and rioting.
ResPublica said that military academies would address poor discipline in parts of the country where high proportions of young people are Neet (not in education, employment or training).
"Military academies would open up new opportunities for those lacking hope and aspiration," the thinktank's report said. "They would change the cultural and moral outlook of those currently engulfed by hopelessness and cynicism."