ForcesWatch comment

26/02/2016

ForcesWatch comment

Good news – after months of hard work ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland have now formally submitted our petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for an inquiry into armed forces visits to schools.

We are urging MSPs to strike a ‘new deal’ on armed forces visits to schools, ensuring greater scrutiny, transparency and guidance over visits.

There’s already been a hugely positive response to the petition, with more than four hundred signatories in the first four days. You too can sign it, whether you live in Scotland or not.

You’ll find it here and it’s live until the 20th March.

Please do Tweet and Facebook the link – and tell friends and family. We are also planning a series of local meeting to discuss the issues raised in the petition. These will be held in Edinburgh on Monday 14th March at the Quaker Meeting House, Glasgow on Tues 15th at the STUC, and Aberdeen on Thurs 17th at the Quaker Meeting House - details here.

The Scottish media has been keen to cover the story with The Herald newspaper and prominent website the Common Space running full articles about the petition.

These both quoted ForcesWatch coordinator – Emma Sangster – saying: “A new deal is badly needed on this issue as the number of visits that the armed forces make to schools has risen significantly over the past ten to twelve years.

“There is a lack of clarity regarding the nature of armed forces visits and who is responsible for overseeing them. Our fear is these visits are being used as a recruitment tool in schools, with the military promoted only in a positive light.”

Our campaign has been backed by prominent socialist campaigner, Cat Boyd, who said “schools are for education, not the military. I support the campaign against targeting children for army recruitment.”

The targeting of young people in Scotland’s schools has also been criticised by Rory Steel – SNP youth vice-convener – who accused the MoD of using “cleverly selected snapshots of army life that do not portray the reality” in their adverts.

Coverage of the petition also formed the backdrop to prominent articles by The Herald and Daily Telegraph in the days following a major row over Conservative plans to create military cadet units in disadvantaged Scottish state schools.

SNP children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, has cold-shouldered the idea, stressing that, unlike in England, Scottish state schools have never had cadet units based within them.

The EIS teaching union – which has called on people to sign the petition – also said there would be “a fair degree of concern among the teaching profession if we were to go down this route” on in-school cadet units.

23/02/2016

Written and offered to ForcesWatch by Joe Brydon, who was in Year 13 at an academy school in Bristol at the time of the trip.

An account of a school trip in 2015 to the First World War battlefields by Joe Brydon, who was in Year 13 at the time, which raises various important questions about some of the ways that school students are being encouraged to remember war.

Monday 29th June 2015

Our first meeting with the tour guide, an ex-police officer, summarised fairly well the tone of my school’s trip in June 2015 to some of the First World War battlefields. “Remember,” she instructed us, “every time we take a photo we want smiles because they died so we could have freedom.” Nothing about capital and empire for the moment, but that would be too historically accurate, as she explained; by focussing on individuals, it becomes “less of a history lesson and more interesting really.”...

05/01/2016

Take part in the Education Committee's 'purpose and quality of education' in England inquiry! Here's a short guide on how to make a quick submission, and suggestions of things you could say, to emphasise the importance of critical thinking education.

11/11/2015

ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published by Schools Week.

The visibility of Remembrance within the public realm has grown significantly over recent years. This has been driven by the Royal British Legion, which raises nearly £42million with the Poppy Appeal, almost twice the amount of a decade ago.

Activities associated with the appeal now extend into entertainment, shopping, the Poppy Lottery, and education. The British Legion claims the brand position of ‘national custodian of Remembrance’ and much of its marketing has created a sense of moral imperative around displays of support for the appeal.

This imperative, and concern over the tone of much of the British Legion’s marketing, has sparked debate about the place of remembrance in the public realm. However, there has yet to be a significant public discussion about the place of remembrance within education, although an important opener was provided last year by David Aldridge, working in Philosophy of Education at Oxford Brookes University with his paper How Ought War to be Remembered in Schools?

This paper explored how a complex and value laden concept such as remembrance fits into education. He notes the danger that, 'The weight of past sacrifice is used to legitimise contemporary conflicts in which soldiers continue to die alongside the historical fallen', which, 'could discourage students from thinking critically about the legitimacy of this nation's involvement in current conflicts and other conflicts in the future'.

Aldridge also argues that the role of 'charitable bodies with an interest in remembrance' should be limited, stating that, 'The ubiquity of charitable slogans and images undermines the educationally justifiable aim of conveying the horror of war. Other charitable causes, furthermore, are more worthy of nationwide exposure.'

This conclusion takes on added significance in the context of other developments in education, which has become an important site for the promotion of the military's interests. This is evident in cadet units in schools, visits by the armed forces to schools and colleges to promote their careers or run activities, and the promotion of ‘military ethos’ by alternative education providers using a military framework.

These agencies, run by ex-military staff, operate in primary as well as secondary schools; they conduct whole-class activities as well as provide an alternative to mainstream education for students at risk of failing.

Since 2012, the Department for Education has awarded a staggering £31million of new funding to these ‘military ethos’ projects, and to the Troops to Teachers scheme, and a further £14million of joint funding with the Ministry of Defence has been awarded to the Cadet Expansion Scheme. George Osborne also pledged a further £50million in his post-election budget to expand cadets into 500 state schools.

Many of the new breed of state schools for 14-18 year olds, University Technical Colleges, which focus education around the needs of employers, are sponsored by a part of the armed forces. Others involve the arms industry including big players such as BAE and Chemring.

30/09/2015

ForcesWatch Comment

This afternoon the Welsh Assembly debated the issue of armed forces visits to schools in Wales, following the Welsh Government’s acceptance of the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee’s three recommendations for ensuring greater transparency and balance of views regarding these visits. The debate can be watched online here, and a transcript of it can be read online here.

Earlier in the day, the issue was explored by BBC Wales in a written piece and two lively radio debates – one in Welsh and one in English – both of which featured a spokesperson from ForcesWatch, raising our concerns about the recruitment agenda behind the visits, the greater frequency of visits to schools in areas of greater deprivation, and the sanitised, glamourised image of the armed forces that students often seem to be getting from the visits. Welsh-language S4C TV explored the issue in their evening news (from 19mins) and then the political discussion show (from 14.50)

The Welsh Assembly debate saw a range of views expressed, by Welsh Assembly Members from all five Parties, although there was a general consensus that the issues was an important one because of the unique nature of an armed forces career, and a general support for the recommendations. The Petitions Committee chair William Powell AM opened the debate, noting that the Petitions Committee found that whilst a ban on armed forces visits to schools would be inappropriate, there was evidence that the visits occur more in areas of disadvantage, and asserted that the visits must not involve glamourised representations of the armed forces being put across unchallenged to students.

'Joining the Army is not a real life video game'

Jenny Rathbone AM stressed that 'Joining the Army is not a real life video game' – that military life can be 'dangerous & unpredictable', with the possibility of having ‘to kill someone you don’t know and have never met’, and of being killed or permanently injured, part of the ‘horrors of war’. She noted that the UK is the only country in the EU to recruit 16 year-olds into the armed forces (something ForcesWatch is campaigning to change). She also mentioned concerns about the low levels of literacy among many recruits, and about the spate of deaths during armed forces training in recent years. She stated that 'We should be very cautious about Army recruitment in schools'.

Darren Millar AM, chair of the Cross Party Group on Armed Forces and Cadets, reiterated the claim often made by the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence, that the armed forces never visit schools for recruitment purposes, but rather that they help to deliver the National Curriculum, and that they only attend schools on invitation. ForcesWatch have deconstructed these claims many times, most recently in this Wales-specific briefing. We would not disagree with his points that it is unsurprising that some schools receive more visits because their headteachers are well-disposed to them, and they have long associations with the armed forces.  However, his emphasis on the trades that the armed forces can offer, and the armed forces’ peace-keeping role, overlooks the facts that the youngest, most disadvantaged recruits, are greatly over-represented in the most dangerous and least-transferable skills-providing parts of the armed forces.

This emphasis on potential skills provided by the armed forces also overlooks the fundamental role of the military; as the Army stated in a rare, candid moment in 1996: ‘The fundamental and perhaps only difference of significance, between military service and other legitimate professions and occupations is that servicemen and women must be prepared, at any time and in the service of others rather than themselves, to participate in protracted and sometimes wholesale destruction and violence, to kill and be killed for benign and politically justifiable purposes... It is easy in the myopia of a prolonged period of peace and low intensity operations to lose sight of this ultimate reality.’ Lastly, his claim that other employers would visit schools on a similar level to the armed forces if they were invited or made more of an effort, does not take into account that the armed forces have significant resources for these visits. For example, the Welsh Ambulance Service hardly makes any school visits as it doesn’t have the resources to do so, and the Welsh Fire Service make more visits but focus on fire safety. In any case, the professions are not comparable; as the Army quote above goes on to say: ‘Other professions, such as the police and fire service, also face death and injury, often more frequently than do members of the Army, but not on the same potential scale, or with the same inherent levels of lethal danger; none face the potentially devastating experience of deliberately taking life as a normal part of their roles.’