UK schools: Teachers out, troops in

A UK government still reeling from major riots is planning to get tough on gang culture by deploying soldiers in the nation’s schools. While the plan’s authors believe discipline is key, critics say the boot camps will only alienate kids further.

­When the going gets tough, the tough get going – and army boot-camps are not the place to step out of line.

It is this culture of military self-control the government now wants to bring into schools to cure the lack of discipline it blames for the recent riots. So it is calling on the cavalry – well, retired soldiers – to swap the frontline for the front of a classroom.

The government is fast-tracking troops into teaching as a way, it says, to restore adult authority in the wake of last summer’s riots. It wants to provide more male role models, even giving teachers new powers to use physical force as a way to control disruptive pupils.

“It is not a bad thing for children to know where they stand,” says Affan Burki, an army captain and future headmaster of the Phoenix School. “If they step to the wrong side of the line, they will be punished accordingly. If they stay on the right side of the line, within the confines of the law, they will not be punished.”

It is a line few might dare cross with a teacher like Burki at the helm. He has been appointed headmaster at a new academy where every teacher will be a former soldier. Uniform inspections and military-style roll-calls will provide the polish on a strict routine.

“When you can maintain discipline in a theater of war, which is the most high-pressured situation, you can maintain discipline in a classroom in Oldham,” says Burki.

With corporal punishment now a step closer to being sanctioned, many fear it will push already alienated youth further away.

“I think they would start building their own gang, as they have done towards the police,” explains Mena Mawson from the Youth Education Support Services. “I have seen how the police behave towards our kids. It is two gangs, isn’t it? You could say the police are a gang. It would be the army against the kids. I think they would become more unruly.”

The Youth Education Support Services charity takes in problem pupils the state system chucks out and turns their lives around. According to teachers here, it is about finding the right kind of stimulation rather than simply cracking a whip.

“They become unruly because they are bored,” says Mawson. “Putting discipline in isn’t the answer just on its own. Discipline yes, but actually making sure they’ve got something at their own level.”

RT’s Ivor Bennet talked with a 16-year-old who is still too afraid to be identified. He was expelled from school after what he will only refer to as “an incident”. Back then, he was on course to fail all his exams, but after just a year with the charity he passed 14 of them – a far cry from someone supposedly too disruptive to be taught.

The boy says that the idea of bringing in more discipline would not have worked for him. Individual attention was the only thing that turned his education around.

But with the government touting an education system that prides itself on conformity, the battle could be only just beginning.