The Troops to Teachers (TtT) programme was introduced in England in autumn 2013. The programme fast-tracks ex-armed service members into teaching in schools and is supported both by the current Coalition government, and the previous Labour government.
The White Paper, The Importance of Teaching (Department for Education 2010), gives the main purposes for the introduction of TtT as twofold: firstly, poor standards of achievement in comparison with other industrialised nations, and secondly, a need for increased discipline in schools. One of the main solutions to these issues, the introduction to the White Paper claims, is to ‘raise the status of teaching’ by improving the quality of teachers, by making changes in the way they are trained. However, armed service leavers entering teaching are not necessarily required to be university graduates, which seems to contradict the government’s own stated commitment to increase academic requirements for teachers. The government have also committed to pay the tuition fees of service leavers, at a time when tuition fees in England have been raised to £9000 per annum for other home students.
The UK is not alone in introducing such programmes of collaboration between the military and schooling: In the US, the Troops to Teachers (T3) programme retrains ex-soldiers with a minimum of 10 years’ experience, and a degree. The programme has been in place since 1994 and is administered by the US Department of Defense. It has been referred to as an ‘outstanding success’, with 88% remaining in the profession three years after they qualified, compared to the usual retention rate for teachers in the US of 50% after five years. The programme has been beneficial in bringing in more men and ethnic minorities to the teaching profession. It has been reported that T3 teachers are more prepared to teach in inner city schools, teach shortage subjects such as Maths and Science and in areas such as Special and Vocational Education, and more likely to move where demand for teachers is greatest. It has also been reported that over 90% of school principals have claimed that T3 teachers keep better discipline than other teachers. In Germany, there is a tradition of so-called ‘Jugendoffiziere’ holding project days at secondary schools, and many German local education authorities have official agreements to work more closely with the military, including the military having input on modules in some teacher training programmes. Since 2010, there has been an increase in military activity in German schools, both in order to attract more support among the population for Germany’s foreign wars, but also as a recruitment drive, since compulsory national service was abolished in 2011. There is currently very little academic research available on these programmes.
Of course the main aim of the English TtT programme is simply to provide employment for service-leavers. However, an analysis of the rhetoric around the introduction of the programme suggests that despite appearing to be aimed at all young people, the TtT initiative actually appears to be aimed at poor and racially subordinated youth. Raced and classed references to ‘an educational underclass’, ‘a poverty of ambition’, ‘a poverty of discipline’ and ‘inner-city violence and gangs’ appear in the literature and political rhetoric around the programme. This is likely to further entrench polarisation in an already unequal system. It seems that TtT is intended mostly as a programme for the inner-city disadvantaged, whilst wealthier, whiter schools will mostly continue to get highly qualified teachers.
TtT is also likely to contribute to a wider process of devaluing of current Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The focus on discipline and authority to tackle (perceived) bad behaviour, youth violence and crime seems to imply that current ITE is too ‘liberal,’ current teachers are unable to cope and the behaviour problems can only be dealt with by sending in the troops. The TtT policy seems confused as to whether what is required is males (ex-army will obviously also include females), or what is understood as masculine military-style discipline, but the call for (male? masculine?) service-leavers devalues the work being done by a predominantly female teaching staff currently in UK schools. The assumption that ex-armed forces will somehow automatically maintain discipline in the classroom, assumed to be an inevitable outcome of them having been in the army, and that TtT teachers will not be expected to be subject specialists, seems to render ITE in general virtually irrelevant.
More sinister though, TtT potentially contributes to the wider militarisation and securitisation of society and specifically of education. Western societies, particularly urban areas, are becoming ever-more militarized and securitized spaces. This can be observed in developments such as militarized policing at demonstrations and public events, the extent of surveillance cameras in both private and public spaces, military- style borders around areas such as financial districts, embassies and airports, the introduction of biometric surveillance, the explosion of gated communities. Schools in the US have been compared to maximum security prisons, with features including on-site police officers, mandatory drug testing, CCTV even in toilets, metal detectors and biometric testing. Schools in the UK, whilst not (yet) so securitised as those in the US, have also already introduced many of these measures.
The incipient militarisation of society in general contributes to the conditioning of the population to accept a culture of permanent war, and to increase ideological support for foreign wars. Recent evidence from Germany suggests that military programmes in schools contribute to this process by making war seem natural, and normalizing and glorifying violence, as well as potentially providing military recruitment by stealth.
Military programmes in schools can also be seen as one of a number of policies which criminalise youth, particularly minority ethnic and disadvantaged young people. In being classified as in need of the army for discipline, this in turn further confirms the racist stereotype that these groups are undisciplined, violent, tending to anti-social or criminal behaviour, and threatening to the social order, contributing to the essentialisation and fixing of such racial categories. In addition, considering evidence from the US, high security, militarised schooling contributes to preparing disadvantaged young people, marginalised along lines of race and class, for whom there is little paid work once they leave school, for a life in which they frequently find themselves under police surveillance or even in jail, by conditioning them to accept such a securitised environment.
This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant reference ES/K000233/1: Mass population response to critical infrastructure collapse – a comparative approach].