Two ex-servicemen are earning their stripes as trainee school teachers at Excelsior Academy after distinguished military careers stationed in Afghanistan and across the globe.
Former ‘Para’ Rob Stephenson, 32, is looking to qualify as an English teacher while Daniel Burke, a 26-year-old ex-Royal Air Force Regiment lance corporal, is training to become a PE teacher.
Both are enrolled on the trailblazing Troops to Teachers programme which capitalises on the military skills of servicemen to teach schoolchildren across the country.
The two-year long programme run by a consortium of UK universities, fast-tracks troops with proven academic achievement and specialist subject knowledge. On completion, it leads to an honours degree with qualified teacher status.
Rob and Daniel hope time spent predominantly in the classroom at Excelsior, seconded to other local schools as well as intense academic study, will lead to permanent teaching posts in future.
The desire to put the first two years of a university English degree course to good use and to spend more time with his young family convinced Rob to return to civvy street and pursue his teaching dream.
He was part of the elite airborne infantry Parachute Regiment for eight years based in Colchester and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010-11, as well as service in the Falkland Islands and Kenya.
“Going away from home for months at a time, I wasn’t getting enough time with my family, I wanted something new and the Troops to Teachers programme came up,” said Rob, who grew up in Whickham View, just around the corner from Excelsior Academy.
“It was too good an opportunity to miss. The thing I was enjoying the most in the Army was teaching the new blokes their fitness and drills and putting it into practice.
“I wanted a job that I’d really enjoy and that was teaching. There’s not that big a shift really from the military to the school classroom.
“You learn to be confident and not worry about making mistakes. You make them all the time in the Army and you put them right – that’s the only way to learn is from your mistakes.”
Daniel, originally from Manchester, served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, two at Camp Bastion and one at Kandahar Airport during eight years in the RAF.
For the past two years he has been teaching and organising training for new leaders.
“In Afghanistan we were the ground force clearing the airfields for anything coming overhead,” said Daniel, who taught PE during his military career.
“That took 50 days out on the ground on foot and could get pretty intense. I bought a house up here and wasn’t getting much time at home so was looking around for other job opportunities.
“A friend of a friend spotted this and the more I looked at it, the more it seemed to be where I wanted to go.
“Being in the military gives you the confidence to stand up and talk and look kids in the face and explain what you’d like them to learn.”
Both Rob and Daniel are keen to make teaching their permanent careers. “Excelsior Academy is the most diverse school in the North East and a great place to learn how to teach,” said Rob.
“I’m just looking forward to being settled in the classroom and then to do my MA after I finish the Troops to Teachers training.”
Daniel added: “I would never have envisaged being a teacher, I never wanted to come back to school again, but your priorities change when you get a bit older and I’m really enjoying this.”
Deborah Barakat, Excelsior Academy Assistant Principal and Initial Teacher Training Lead, said: “We have a pioneering attitude to ITT at Excelsior Academy and recognise the benefits for our pupils in having Rob and Daniel train with us.
“The skills and attributes they bring to our classrooms from their military careers are good for us, and for them, they get to learn how to become teachers in one of Newcastle’s most progressive and improved schools.”