Saturday, 6 April 2013

"You want the truth; you can't handle the truth"

Posted 11th December 2012

Morale amongst troops is “fragile” admitted the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond,  as he announced cuts in the armed forces this summer. 20,000 will lose their jobs in the next few years, reducing the numbers by 20 per cent by 2020. Nice easy numbers, real people’s jobs.

In yet another disingenuous soundbite the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, wants schools to fast track ex-army people into teaching jobs even though it’s a graduate only profession. Most army personnel do not have degrees. So the 132 successful army applicants accepted onto PGCE courses this year are all from the officer class. That’ll be the answer, then.

The teaching profession will happily welcome qualified, trained teachers with experience of other jobs. I found my own five years in manual jobs a definite advantage when becoming a teacher but we don’t need keen milkmen, barmen, labourers or lorry drivers in our classrooms until they are trained  teachers. So fee-free university places for redundant squaddies? And cake too, no doubt.

Gove loves OECD league tables. Well, the advance western democratic, industrialised financial centre of the world – the UK - is now the 23rd  best, out of 33, on youth unemployment. With 1,001,000 young people out of work and grouped statistically as the NEET category of young hopelessness, both Labour and Conservative politicians are running to ex-armed services personnel to change the face of education. The present government has supported four schemes already in areas of high unemployment where ex- soldiers can try to instil “the spirit of service…exemplifying the big society.” Labour party policy, led by the anonymous Stephen Twigg whose main job seems to be to make Gove seem charismatic, want Military-style schools, particularly in socially deprived areas.

The ex-military men and women are meant to teach disaffected working class youth in high unemployment areas what exactly? Fearlessly following orders, how to use guns, the majesty of route marches, army rations and acceptance of low wages, rigid hierarchical organisation, class divisions and sub standard accommodation for their families?

Or is it that they will teach our young people about the harsher aspects of life in the army? Major General John Lorimer in his November 2012 letter to the Parliamentary Select Committee has declared that having interviewed 400 women in the armed services, ”every one of them had been the subject of unwanted sexual attention.” Or that, according to a Channel 4 investigation last month, “bullying in all its manifestations is perceived as acceptable.”

I have known dozens of youngsters who have joined the army, loved the life and fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, The Falklands or Ireland. I  know men who built good working lives for themselves after completing their army careers. I am sure many make superb role models for our students and I regularly take advantage of excellent army careers services for schools. However, the army is no longer signing up our unskilled 16-year-olds in any numbers and is making its own soldiers redundant. It is false to promise ex-military people  employment in education in anything but the lower paid non teaching jobs where wages have been frozen for three years. And it is wrong to expect them to instil obedience to army discipline into young people in deprived areas who want a job, a home and hope of a future.

What we need in education, for everyone in our schools: including the privileged and the disadvantaged, the sons and daughters of unemployed soldiers, NCOs and officers, is an education that develops social skills, independence of thought, opposition to bullying and stereotyping; a sense of democracy, fairness and social justice, an education which convincingly says to each child, “You are valued and will be nurtured, because you really are the future hope for a decent society.”

Gove and Twigg, Hammond and the others: “You want the truth; you can’t handle the truth.”

Dennis O'Sullivan

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