28 February 2011
The Department for Education has announced that former members of the armed forces will become mentors to young people in schools.
According to various media reports, as well as the instructors that will work with children at risk of being excluded from mainstream education, the Government will also announce that ex-members of the forces will be able to apply for £9,000 bursaries to retrain as teachers, and there will be an expansion of the number of cadet forces set up in state schools in order to instil "discipline".
The media headlines are predictable:
- "Battle stations" (BBC)
- "Soldiers drafted into schools in discipline crackdown" (Daily Telegraph)
- "Unruly youngsters must be sent to boot camps to learn respect, declares Gove" ."Youngsters need the rigour of a military-style education because they have 'no self-discipline or sense of purpose', the Education Secretary said. Michael Gove attacked the declining virtues of the young yesterday, as he announced Â£1.5million funding to draft battle-hardened troops into 'boot camps' for unruly pupils." (Daily Mail).
There are two interesting lessons from the BBC's pre-publicity about the programme.
One is that at the school featured: "the crime and murder rate is almost double the American average" and , according to its principal:
"In this community getting shot is the norm If you ask them do you know anybody that's ever been shot, I could almost guarantee you about 95% of my kids will raise their hands and say yes".
That is America and "getting shot is the norm" is, thankfully, not yet a typical situation for this country.
The other is that, despite the screaming British headlines, the methods adopted at the American school are far from the parade ground:
"There is no screaming or shouting at pupils and no marching them around the playground. At Huntington, voices seem to be very rarely raised. Former US Air Force Master Sergeant Jeff Lloyd, now a social studies teacher, explained why: 'I don't think I have to scream at you, I don't think I have to belittle you, I don't have to do any of those things to help you achieve self-discipline. In the military no one is doing that either, that's not how you get men to do what you want them to do. You do that through relationships, and that's what I build here - relationships with students.'"
The English Education Secretary, however, is quick to do schools and the majority of young people a disservice and pander to tabloid headlines: "many of the virtues that parents across the country feel have disappeared from our schools and need to be restored: self-discipline, a sense of purpose and a belief in the importance of working as a team". The result of such comments is Daily Mail articles that imply that all young people have 'no self-discipline or sense of purpose".
Clearly forgetting all the dedicated teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, doctors etc in this country, Mr Gove is also quoted as saying: "There is no better example, I think, of the spirit of service than those who are in our armed forces."
There is no doubt that military personnel demonstrate enormous courage, service, dedication and professionalism, but we must not forget that while we do need more men in teaching to act as role models and schools need good teachers and support staff from a variety of backgrounds, whether that is military or elsewhere, schools are not the army and children are not troops.
Ministers should be doing more to encourage people to enter the teaching profession from a wide variety of backgrounds including the services as long as they understand that education and schools are not the military.
Yes, there are discipline problems in some schools, but the vast majority of children in this country go to well-disciplined, well-organised schools it's only the ones where there is a problem that tend to make the news.
Britain is not "broken" and most of our schools do not need to be "fixed".
The 2009 Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research found that behaviour was improving and that "An overwhelming majority of teachers over 90 per cent believe all or most pupils are generally well behaved around the school". The Ofsted Annual Report found that 92% of schools were "good" or "outstanding" for behaviour. In secondary schools, only 1% of schools were judged "inadequate".
Voice's evidence to the Commons Select Committee Inquiry pointed out that while persistent low-level disruption in classrooms was probably not getting worse, more severe incidents of "extreme aggression", although rare, were increasing in number. Disability-related disorders, like psychiatric disorder or attention deficit disorder are where there is deterioration in behaviour. Deeply disturbed children need specialist handling not parade-ground-style discipline.
While the DfE's scheme will hopefully be more subtle than that, the language used by the media, encouraged by politicians, panders to the hang 'em, flog 'em, 'bring-back-national service', 'things were better in my day' brigade the red-faced old colonels propping up the bar with a copy of The Daily Mail.
This chauvinistic concentration on masculine discipline fails to recognise the contribution that people from a wide variety of backgrounds not just military can and do bring to education. Teach First does just that and a report on its Website voices doubts about 'Troops to Teachers'.
While military service has much offer many young people, and offers much to this country, it is not the only form of national service or service to the nation.
The proposed expansion of cadet forces again ignores alternative programmes that could teach young people about team work, dedication and service. The current National Trust Magazine, for example, features the benefits of a conservation-based project for young people.
This militarism takes its lead from royalty. Why do all of the monarch's offspring have to follow a military career? Perhaps, some of them should have been encouraged to try careers in teaching, childcare, conservation, the environment, agriculture, medicine, architecture
To those carried away with enthusiasm for the idea of troops in the classroom:
- Remember Deepcut?
- 2,500 ex-servicemen are in prison did they have "discipline", "self-respect" and a "sense of purpose" instilled in them by their time in the armed services?