ForcesWatch’s Military Out Of Schools campaign aims to take the argument that educational institutions are no place for the military into the public arena and to question assumptions that engagement with armed forces at a young age is benign. Additionally, we provide materials to support those challenging military presence in their schools and provide a more balanced view of what life in the armed forces involves for young people.
Scroll down to read the full introduction to the project below
The UK armed forces visit thousands of schools each year. They offer school presentation teams, youth teams, ‘careers advisors’, lessons plans, away days, one to one mentoring and interviews, pre-recruitment activities and more (see our briefing on Military activity in UK schools). The Department for Education are promoting 'military skills and ethos' schemes as part of national education policy. These schemes include the expansion of cadet forces within state schools, the Troops to Teachers programme, the cadet version of the naitonal citizen service, the development of military academies and free schools, and 'alternative provison' for young people who have been excluded or are at risk of 'failing' - including military to mentors and outside provision such as Commando Joes' and Challenger Troop.
Are military-led activities and a military approach appropriate within education? What about aspects of military ethos which are different to the values of education around issues of critical thinking and obedience, for example? To what extent is this policy driven by ideology - that the military can be a source of solutions to social problems?
Some in schools will be exposed to more extensive contact through the Combined Cadet Force. While many see the cadets offering discipline and excitement, they can draw youngsters struggling with academic subjects to a more exciting arena for personal achievement and belonging without a balanced understanding of the risks and obligations of military life. Is the operation of the chain of command within school-based cadet forces, appropriate within an educational setting?
How can we challenge military activities in schools and colleges? How can a more balanced view of what life in the armed forces involves be given to young people? We question whether schools should be a channel through which a biased view of military life and activities can be fed to children. The forces, as an institution working to a long-term agenda, should not have the opportunity to gain influence with the provision of resources and activities.
While there are claims that school involvement is not about recruiting young people, the Ministry of Defence has itself stated that visits to educational establishments are a “powerful tool for facilitating recruitment”. They have also stated that school visits are important in order to 'influence future opinion-formers' (see our briefing on Military activity in UK schools). ForcesWatch argue that visits to schools are themselves recruitment activities. In having contact with young people, the military aim to sow seeds in impressionable young minds. In 2007, the head of the Army’s recruitment strategy said, “Our new model is about raising awareness, and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, 'That looks great.' From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip." The Respublica report recommending the establishement of military academies linked the need to recruit more reservists and the need to find employment for ex-service personnel with the creation of military-led educational establishments. ForcesWatch are concerned that the interests of young people should not be considered in conjunction with the interests of the armed forces.
If we do not provide a challenge to the military's engagement with our children, we are failing them. Young people need access to information and alternative, balanced views in order to make informed decisions about joining up.
Teachers unions in England and Scotland have questioned or called for a ban on army presentation teams in schools and colleges and students have themselves been challenged the presence of the military in their schools. We aim to support these initiatives.