The Labour Party exposed the claimed flop a week after spending watchdog the National Audit Office published figures showing the Government had failed generally to recruit enough trainees for four years.
The Department for Education confirmed it had spent £4.3m to date on the 2012 troops initiative, which enables veterans without degrees to retrain as teachers.
The scheme was launched as part of moves by former education secretary Michael Gove - who hoped to attract 2,000 applicants - to instill in pupils military values such as leadership, discipline, motivation and teamwork.
Labour slammed as ‘half-hearted’ the Government’s efforts to attract veterans even after an earlier pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron to ‘make sure it’s working’.
The party said applications to the programme, run by the University of Brighton, had dropped over three intakes.
Following a pilot, the first veterans started on a two-year training programme in January 2014, with 28 graduating in December last year.
Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell MP described the claimed low turnout as the latest in a ‘series of failures by the Tory Government to get a hold on the teacher shortage crisis’.
Ms Powell said, ‘Teacher recruitment continues to threaten standards under the Tories, and yet despite David Cameron’s personal commitment to the scheme, the Government has only managed to get 28 veterans to qualify as teachers.’
‘We urgently need a proper strategy for teacher recruitment including of veterans for whom this could make a great second career.’
Teaching unions also blasted the scheme as a ‘gimmick’ which demonstrated a poor grasp of the profession.
The DfE defended the course’s record, claiming criticism to be ‘unfair’, and adding that a total of 140 veterans, including trainees, were currently working in classrooms. While the number of applications had dropped, the number of trainees accepted onto the programme had risen from 41 in cohort one, to 51 in cohort three.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said while she welcomed veterans to the sector, the scheme had long been recognised as ‘headline-grabbing rhetoric’. She added that teaching was more than a ‘matter of discipline and crowd control’.
She continued, ‘Government must learn from this lesson and refocus the whole system of teacher training, which is now too fractured and is missing its targets. We face a serious teacher recruitment and retention crisis as a direct result of David Cameron’s muddled thinking and wrong priorities.’
Alison Ryan, senior policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), called on the Government to focus on making the profession more attractive ‘to join, and stay in’.
She added, ‘ATL members know that we need a coherent teacher education programme, both for initial teacher training and continued professional development.
‘This must be coupled with a serious attempt at reducing teacher workload and the Government treating teachers as professionals with the respect and salaries they deserve.’
A DfE spokesman said, ‘These figures are completely misleading and an unfair portrayal of a scheme that is giving talented service leavers a chance to inspire young people and use their unique experience to teach the skills that will help them fulfil their potential.
‘The 28 graduates referred to are the first trainees to be recruited and completed their two year course at the end of December. A further two cohorts are being trained right now which means that more than 140 former troops are working in our classrooms and record numbers of eligible applicants have applied for the latest cohort.
‘The impact of these recruits in the classroom has been overwhelmingly positive with headteachers praising the influence they’ve had on pupil’s attainment.’
The spokesman said that more than three-quarters of graduates were had been employed by the school where they trained.