Writing today for The Times Redbox blog Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education Lucy Powell MP warns that the Troops for Teachers failure points to wider problems with teacher recruitment and retention.
We should be celebrating our armed forces personnel particularly those that, after a period of service keeping our country safe from harm, turn to teaching the next generation and moving their experience to the classroom.
To great fanfare, the 2010 Tory manifesto proclaimed a plan to get troops leaving the armed services into the classroom. David Cameron has personally championed the scheme. Troops to Teachers is a laudable initiative and one I very much support. I want to see more veterans re-training to become teachers as they have a huge amount to offer and we desperately need more good teachers.
However, two years ago Labour warned the Prime Minister that the scheme was in danger and he gave MPs personal assurances that he would make sure it was working. In fact the opposite is true. The Tories half-hearted approach to the scheme means that only 28 veterans qualified to teach in the last Parliament. On top of this applications have fallen almost 80 per-cent over the three cohorts of the programme.
This failure is symptomatic of a wider issue with this Government – making announcements and talking big to gain headlines but then failing to deliver when the spotlight moves on. The news earlier this week about the marriage tax break flop is another such example.
Troops to Teachers is not succeeding because Ministers have taken their eye of the ball. They are in denial that there is a problem. Their failure to ensure the policy is working also points to a bigger problem with the government’s approach to teacher recruitment and retention.
There is a teacher shortage crisis in our schools. Ofsted, school leaders, the teaching unions and experts have all warned that there is a real and growing problem. Most recently the National Audit Office report last week criticised the Government for creating teacher shortages amid their failure to recruit enough trainee teachers for the last four years in a row.
This damning report should have been a further wake-up call for the Department for Education but Ministers instead walked off the pitch and blamed the spectators for their poor record. It was the fault of everyone but them that there aren’t enough teachers in our classrooms despite the fact their record of failure goes back years. You can’t solve a problem if you’re blind to it. Ministers should be alarmed that vacancy rates have doubled and more classes in secondary schools are taught by teachers without a relevant post-A level qualification in their subject. Over a quarter of physics classes are now taught by a teacher without such a qualification. 14 out of 17 secondary subjects had unfilled training places in 2015/16, compared with two subjects with unfilled places in 2010/11. In subjects with hard-to-fill places, providers are more likely to accept trainees with lower degree classifications. Standards in schools will fall unless the government takes real and concerted action.
What's increasingly clear is that, as with the government's general slow response and in-denial-attitude to teacher shortages, Troops to Teachers isn't working because the government isn't focusing on teacher recruitment. We urgently need a proper strategy for teacher recruitment including of veterans for whom this could make a great second career.
It’s time for Ministers to get their heads back in the game and champion this important scheme. It’s not only an embarrassing failure for the Prime Minister, it’s a crying shame that we’re losing such driven, celebrated public servants who could help make such a difference in our schools.