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27-02-2012

Review: Classroom Warriors

The makers of BBC's Panorama should reconsider their programme title after their 'Classroom Warriors' episode. It was a one-sided and loaded piece which served as an uncritical advertisement for one of Tory education minister Michael Gove's flagship education policies.


James Kerr, Teaching assistant

It focused on the government's new 'troops to teachers' initiative where ex-military personnel are to be fast-tracked intoBritain's schools with a financial sweetener. This is at a time when the government has axed thousands of Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) places and removed the bursary for trainee teachers. Universities had to delay offering places this year for months as they waited for their budgets.

This all dove-tails with Gove's desire for teacher-training to be school based, a craft picked up by observation rather than a profession based on a theory of how students learn. Interviewees pointed to the 'magic' former military personnel bring to the classroom. This assertion relied on three case studies from one US and twoUK schools where ex-military play a leading role.

It may be true that some ex-soldiers have the ability to inspire and gain the respect of young people but it was hardly evidence that the military is an ideal grounding for a career in teaching. Only a short contribution from Christine Blower from the NUT gave a counter argument.

Much of the episode followed LordswoodSchoolin Birminghamwhere one in 12 staff comes from a military background. Regular 'cadet days', where students wear military uniform and parade in the playground, were praised by Gove and he pledged more money and support for independent schools in developing this. This is a dose of the 'DNA of the private sector' for our public services.

Panorama presented the situation as if schools are falling apart and only military intervention can save them. It's undeniable that behaviour is a big issue for teachers and support staff and a major contributor to stress, but how can we deal with this?

Pressure on teaching staff is such that there is little time to share and develop strategies and systems to manage behaviour and to support each other in this task.

The programme was also silent on the huge cuts which will lead to job losses, higher class sizes and cuts to provision for students with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Also, as many working class young people will have their options after education blocked, a military career may be the only alternative to unemployment.

The uptake of Gove's scheme so far has been questionable. Tough posturing by the government won't deal with the deep rooted social problems which impact on students' behaviour or the huge pressure heaped onto Britain's teachers by targets and a lack of genuine support that holds them back from offering the support students need.