Why should soldiers be fast-tracked into teaching?

The education minister's proposal is insulting to children and demonstrates a profoundly anti-intellectual contempt for the teaching profession


In its wisdom, the Government has decided to give members of the Armed Forces a fast-track route into teaching. The plan, long in the making, will give former troops the chance to teach even if they don’t hold a university degree, and I'm all for it, but I don’t think the Government is going far enough. Yes, we need a military ethos in our schools. But what about our hospitals?

Think about it. Schools will benefit from the military values of leadership, discipline, motivation and teamwork, as David Laws and Michael Gove have argued, but you know where else those values would be useful? The chaotic world of hospitals! OK, so not all soldiers have an education in medicine. But they have the right values. And the right values are much more important than the right qualifications.

The image of infantrymen moving from the military’s theatres of operations to the hospitals’ operating theatres is not the only one available to demonstrate how absurd this proposal is, how insulting to teachers and children, and how profoundly anti-intellectual, with its contempt for the idea that knowing about things might be a necessary prerequisite for teaching them. And these other modest proposals make still clearer the rationale for the Government’s pursuit of this particular wheeze. Imagine, for instance, that teachers were to be fast-tracked into combat units because of their capacities to work hard, manage people and deal with stressful situations. Or try to picture charity workers getting teaching jobs without a degree because a philanthropic ethos might be just as worth instilling in our children as a military one. Any such suggestion would be greeted, rightly, with puzzlement.

And yet with the military it’s different. This plan is based on an American example – with the difference that in America, 99 per cent of participants already had a degree – and in recent years we’ve been edging closer to the American model of unthinking glorification of our Armed Forces. When soldiers and sailors behave well, their exploits are used as evidence of military nobility. When they behave badly, they are seen as bad apples, and we rarely ask whether their wrongdoing might in fact be the product of a poisoned culture.

I suppose this squeamishness is understandable: ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, we’ve been engaged in brutal conflicts that cost most of us very little, and a few of us a great deal. We owe those few. But squeamishness, and a heavy debt, are not a sensible basis for policy making. So, although it feels frankly treacherous to say so, here goes: a military culture is appropriate for the front line, but not for the classroom, where independent thinking should be considered essential. Soldiers might be brave, and well-disciplined, but if they aren’t well qualified that probably won’t be enough to make them good educators. Teachers are doing something really difficult. And children? Children are not the enemy.

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