Soldiers keen to teach

Last year the Education secretary announced plans to recruit ex-soldiers as teachers following good results from a similar scheme in America.

His ‘Troops to Teachers” scheme has already attracted applications from over a hundred veterans and 4,000 others have made enquiries. The most popular subjects are maths, history and PE.

This initiative comes at a time of severe defence cuts and will give them a chance to continue to serve their country in a different way according to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. He says “They have many of the virtues 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”.

In addition to the soldier-teachers about a hundred other non-graduate soldiers are being trained as mentors to work in difficult schools and some non-graduates may be trained up as instructors so they can work in the classroom.

Charlie Taylor, the government adviser on behaviour, also thinks it’s a good idea. He said “In the army you have often got working class people who didn’t have a great go in their education who have amazing qualities in terms of self-discipline, teamwork, (and) leadership. There is a huge untapped resource”.

Not everyone is happy of course. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers think it’s a “ridiculous idea for people to teach without formal teacher training”.

You could say they would say that but they have a point. However there is too much evidence that the current system produces some poor teachers who in turn produce poor results which blight our children’s lives so something has to change.

Teachers must do better

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is proposing that trainee teachers will only be allowed to take their numeracy and literacy test three times.

At present there is no limit on the number of times the tests can be taken.

In my view the misguided philosophy of endless retakes undermines the whole point of exams and goes some way to explain why exam grades appear to improve year on year, plus team course assessments which are open to all kinds of fiddling.

Looking at the examples of test questions reported in the press, many of them multiple choice, anyone with a modicum of intelligence should pass with flying colours the first time. Rather than wait until the trainees start their courses wouldn’t it be better if they took the tests as a selection filter so if they failed they didn’t waste their time and our money on resits which they might fail? That would save everyone’s time and protect our children from bad teachers.

Gove also proposes that teachers should all have at least a 2:2 degree. Whilst this is more contentious most averagely intelligent graduates obtain this class of degree and if they can’t they don’t deserve to become a teacher. This is a vast improvement on former Ofsted chief  Zenna Atkins who (in)famously said “every school should have a useless teacher….”

Something needs to be done when 20-25% of children leave primary school unable to read or write properly and the last Chief Inspector of Schools admitted that only 4% of schools offered “outstanding teaching”.

And he wants to make it easier to sack bad teachers. There are an estimated 15,000 of these of which less than a dozen have been dismissed since 2008. He probably needs to toughen up some head teachers before that happens as in the past they have had a habit of giving references to poor teachers to move them on or otherwise rewarding poor performance (see “Don’t reward failure”).

One of Gove’s earlier ideas was to follow the US example and recruit and pay ex-soldiers to train as teachers to help improve discipline in schools. Ex-army graduates would receive 6 weeks training and non-graduates would be paid a £9,000 a year bursary to complete a two-year degree. Of course the unions don’t like it but it worked in American where research shows that ex-soldiers were better at dealing with classroom disruptions than regular teachers and also got better exam results.

And there was a great article in The Times magazine this week on Charlie Taylor who runs Willows School; which deals with London’s naughtiest children and which has been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted. He is also the newly appointed “behaviour czar”. The article describes how he uses a range of positive psychology and behavioural techniques. He believes that if discipline is carried out consistently the core group of trouble makers can be reduced to a manageable size. He wrote a book called “Divas and door slammers” in which he describes how he won one group over by being civil with them.

He also believes that the ratio of positive to negative feedback needs to be 6:1 (something I have long advocated in performance appraisal schemes). He also believes that teachers get better results from constructive praise. Things might be looking up for the future of our children’s education.

Originally posted in July 2011 by Mike the Psych