The background to troops to teachers and the Phoenix Free School approach

The BBC has an interesting article on its website looking into the background of the ‘troops to teachers’ idea after yesterday’s news of a new scheme that will allow former soldiers will be able to re-train as teachers in two years. Here are some extracts…

At the Phoenix Free School, due to open in Oldham next year, pupils will be taught by a purely ex-military staff.

The school is the brainchild of Prof Tom Burkard who came up with the idea of fast-tracking former servicemen and women into UK classrooms.

The professor of Education Policy at University of Derby also wrote the original think-tank report ‘Troops to Teachers’ for the Centre for Policy Studies in 2008.

In the paper, he advocated bringing a United States programme which retrains retiring troops as teachers for inner city schools, to the UK.

He suggested that ex-troops without degrees could begin their new careers as teaching assistants or remedial tutors.

This is exactly the policy that will be has adopted at Phoenix, a mixed comprehensive.

Here, the subject teachers will all be former military personnel with degrees, largely drawn from officer ranks.

But in contrast to the new government scheme, any former troops without a degree, will work alongside teachers in the classroom as “instructors” rather than teaching the class by themselves. It is anticipated that these instructors will be 40% of staff…

People who say that military discipline will not work in a schoolroom have misunderstood how it works, he says.

“To get promoted from the ranks to Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) you have to prove that you can command the respect of peers without recourse to the stripes on your arm.”

He adds that joining the British armed forces is voluntary, so discipline cannot be coercive. This kind of discipline went out with the end of conscription into the National Service in the 1950s, he says.

“If you have to use coercive techniques for discipline you would find that your troops would all head for the exit”.

Former NCOs and senior NCOs will definitely have the experience and confidence to walk into a classroom and command respect, he says.

However, while he broadly welcomes the government’s plans he questions whether troops without degrees – no matter what their army skill levels – will be expert enough to become secondary subject teachers after just two years’ training.

“There is a danger, particularly in sciences or maths where the amount of knowledge that has to be absorbed is very great, that two years’ training could just be too rushed.”

This is why at Phoenix, former NCOs hired from the local community, will take a different path into the classroom.

They will act as teaching assistants, teach remedial basic skills, and will “be totally in charge of PE and sport”, as well as managing pastoral care, discipline, team-building and pupil data.

More at:  Troops to Teachers, from think-tank to classroom

We had a mixed reaction to the news yesterday to the new scheme that will allow soldiers to re-train as teachers, with support from some but others expressing criticism over concerns that two years is not long adequate to train an unqualified person to teach. Is the approach Professor Burkard is advocating at Phoenix for former NCOs a more sensible one?

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Categories: Free Schools, Teaching and Training.


  1. Mike Bell

    Evidence published by John Hattie shows very little connection between either teacher subject knowledge or teacher-training on the level of student learning.  It also shows a high effect for reducing disruption.
    This suggests that, so long as the ex-military teacher has sufficient knowledge to teach the subject (eg it is not necessary to have a degree in science to teach KS3) their chances of improving learning are higher than for the teacher with a degree, but poor classroom discipline.

  2. rrunsworth

    SchoolsImprove More balanced & sensible approach, each soldier/officer should be judged on own merit.

  3. David_AC_Grant

    SchoolsImprove Litmus test: D’ya reckon the MPs who think this is a good idea wld send their kids to a school like that? Neither do I.

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