ForcesWatch scrutinises the ethics of armed forces recruitment practices and challenges efforts to embed militarist values in civilian society.

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We explore remembrance within education in the context of the plethora of military activities, commemorations, celebrations and military values that schools are being encouraged to take on. And, in the light of, the absence of a compulsory and organised curriculum of peace education within UK schools, our new report shows.


Our reaction to today's Welsh Assembly debate on armed forces visits to schools in Wales, which represents a major step forward in the scrutiny of the ethics of the military's engagement with the education system.


Following our recent piece on the news story that the Ministry of Defence requested access (which the Department for Education rejected) to the database of sensitive data of school students in England, to help the Army better target its recruitment practice, it has emerged that the Army - in collaboration with Royal Holloway College and the mobile phone app specialists DotNet - was specifically seeking to match individuals’ data with specific Army jobs, with a mobile phone app an apparent intended output.

This and other revelations undermine the claims by the MoD quoted in the original news coverage of the story that they aren’t targeting individuals for recruitment, and that the request was an error that had been “halted”.


Letter to The Independent (see all signatories below)

Towns and cities across the UK will today be 'celebrating' Armed Forces Day. Many councils hold these events as signatories to the Armed Forces Community Covenant; almost every local authority has now pledged support to the armed forces in perpetuity, and hundreds of businesses, charities, and even schools have signed the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.

Many of today's events are packaged as 'family fun' with military vehicles and weaponry to entice young people, and cadet and armed forces careers marketing to recruit them. War is not family entertainment. The school assembly packs on offer from the Ministry of Defence display a breath-taking economy with the truth about the purpose and consequences of military action.


A year ago we wrote how Armed Forces Day symbolises the creep of militarism into our civil institutions. Far from being merely a reflection of public respect, this creep is the result of a concerted effort, which can be tracked through policy initiatives and is fuelled by concern that the military are losing control of the public narrative around defence. We noted how these public displays, which are ostensibly about supporting 'the men and women who make up the Armed Forces', (including Camo DayReserves Day and the Poppy Appeal), act to market the military as an institution and to build a positive and uncritical narrative around it and support its recruitment needs.

A year, and another Armed Forces Day, later, we look here at how militarism continues to creep into schools and colleges and how recent developments further embed military approaches and interests within the education system.

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our projects

The armed forces visit thousands of UK schools each year, offering careers presentations, free resources and other activities. The Department for Education are integrating activities with a 'military ethos' into Britain's education system. Should the armed forces be given access to children within education? Is the military's agenda and the promotion of 'military ethos' appropriate within schools?

November 2015: Peace Education and the promotion of the armed forces in UK schools

This report highlights that peace education is not being promoted in schools. This is counter to the recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to the UK Government that peace education should be part of the curriculum. This raises concerns particularly with the increased promotion of the military within schools through the Department for Education's 'military ethos' programme and free military-related learning resources, and as the armed forces continue to conduct a substantial 'youth engagement' programme. See more

August 2015: Concerns about armed forces visits to secondary schools in Wales

This briefing presents the evidence that armed forces visits to secondary schools in Wales are disproportionately high to schools in more disadvantaged areas, do not present a balanced view of the armed forces, and, are more numerous and more career-focused than visits by other employers. See more

May 2015: The recruitment agenda behind the UK armed forces’ ‘engagement’ with students in schools and colleges

This briefing is a compilation of evidence challenging the MoD and armed forces' claims that they don’t recruit in schools and that 'engaging' with students does not have a recruitment purpose.  See more

March 2015: A critical response to The British Armed Forces: Learning Resource 2014

This report, published by ForcesWatch in conjunction with the video The British Armed Forces: Propaganda in the classroom? produced by Quaker Peace & Social Witness, explains why The British Armed Forces Learning Resource is a poor quality educational resource, and exposes it as a politically-driven attempt to promote recruitment into the armed forces and “military values” in schools. See more

December 2014: Armed Forces Visits to Secondary Schools in Scotland

The report, published by ForcesWatch and sponsored by the Educational Institute of Scotland, is based on figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and shows that four-fifths of state secondary schools were visited by the armed forces in a two year period, some numerous timesSee more

See our other materials on the military in education here 

ForcesWatch monitor and challenge the promotion of the military as a normal part of everyday life. We believe that uncritical support for the armed forces stifles concerns about how young people are recruited and limits debate on alternatives to war.

Militarisation in everyday life
This conference brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching and campaigning on the implications of militarisation of UK society. See more here.  

Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism
This book takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, public resistance to it, and the government's increasingly prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war. See more and buy the book.

ForcesWatch has been working with others to raise concerns, including the recruitment of 16 and 17 year olds into the armed forces, the lack of recognition of conscientious objection and restrictive and unclear terms of service.  

September 2014: Army Recruitment: Comparative cost-effectiveness of recruiting from age 16 versus age 18

This paper, published with Child Soldiers International, finds that approximately £50 million would be saved annually if the minimum age of recruitment were raised to 18. It argues for a full, independent review of the policy of recruiting under-18s, with a view to phasing it out as an unnecessary, cost-ineffective, and fundamentally unethical practice. See more

28 October 2013: The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces
This report, shows that post-war mental health problems are most common in young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds; also in veterans who left the forces in the last decade. It draws on over 150 sources as well as testimony from veterans. It calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder. See more

August 2013: Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan
This paper, published with Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 who have completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above. This increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is mainly the result of recruitment policies which drive the youngest recruits into the Army’s most dangerous roles. See more

our new book on militarism

At a comfortable distance from warfare, our culture easily passes over its horrific reality in favour of an appealing, even romantic, spectacle of war. Yet, over the last decade, most Britons have opposed Western military ventures abroad. This book takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, public resistance to it, and the government's increasingly prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war.  See more detail here      Buy the book


We will be involved in a session at the 'Health Through Peace' conference, organised by the health professionals' campaigning network Medact, looking at the health impacts of war and militarism, in London from 13-14 November 2015.

We will be speaking and running workshops at the conference on 'Militarisation in our Society' (organised by Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in partnership with Central England Peace Committee, ForcesWatch and Quaker Peace & Social Witness) in Birmingham from 12-14 February 2016.

Security for the future: In search of a new vision

2014: UK peacebuilding professionals invite you to participate in a new civic conversation about alternatives to the current approach to national security.

Here they outline their concerns about the existing model, and offer a different vision for the future, welcoming input from anyone who wishes to engage in this debate. Read more

Watch our film - Engage: the military and young people

Why does the military have a 'youth engagement' policy and why is the government promoting 'military ethos' within education? What is the impact of military activities taking place in schools? This short film explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

Watch the full film and see more info

Watch the film trailer below:

Watch with Welsh subtitles here

Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment

We call on the UK Government to stop its policy of allowing 15 year olds to apply and 16 and 17 year olds to be recruited into the Armed Forces.
sign petition   download paper version   
sign here if not in the UK

your questions

whats the problem with military recruitment?

ForcesWatch believes that armed forces recruitment practices in the UK are largely unethical. The military are reaching out to children and young people using sophisticated strategies to interest and involve them in military activities which do not deal adequately with the risks of an armed forces career but tend to glamorise and sanitise war. The military also fail to adequately inform young people of the legal obligations of an armed forces career.

See here for more.

what are your other concerns?

Taking an active part in conflict involves serious ethical questions regarding the justification of killing and the political purposes of military action. The armed forces fail to adequately address these concerns during recruitment and for serving personnel.

The more government and national initiatives which are created to show support for the armed forces, the more difficult it will become for individuals and society to reflect on the ethics of conflict and peaceful alternatives. See here for more

what should I think about before I join up?

There are ethical questions and questions about why you really want to join up and about what risks you face and what happens if you decide you want to leave. There are some very useful independent sources of advice about your legal situation as a member of the armed forces and other issues. We also have a selection of materials looking at some aspects of what it is like to serve. See here for more.

what can I do about military recruitment activity in my school or community?

The military make visits to many schools and colleges and are also active at local events. If you are unhappy about the presence of the military in your community, here are some ideas of how to address it and some materials to use. See here for more.

what have other people said about their experiences?

Very often the most useful insights into what it is like to be involved in anything is to hear directly from other people about what they have experienced. Here are some accounts of both what it is like to serve in the armed forces and what it is like to challenge the presence of the military in a community. See here for more.

how do you respond to those who don't agree with you?

We don't expect everyone to agree with us but we think there is significant cause for concern about military recruitment practices and about the way that a climate of uncritical national pride in the armed forces is being fostered which makes debate about the activities of the armed forces difficult to question. We think there should be more room for that debate. See more here.

Support our work

Make a donation to our work or find out more about how you can help.

Donate £36 or more for a FREE COPY of our book 'Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism' See here for details

A funny short film by a young boy on The Militarization of Boys

Raise the age to join the army to 18
By William and Noah

Before You Sign Up

Contact us to get a free batch of these cards to distribute.

British army: one young recruit's story, The Guardian 2013

A 4 part investigation of 'the soldier myth' - talking to soldiers about recruitment, training, fighting and coming home

Action Man: Battlefield Casualities - watch the film and join the campaign to end armed forces recruitment at 16

The Unseen March - short film with former SAS Ben Griffin, activist Mark Thomas and educationalists on ‘military ethos’ in schools. With briefings, resources and action ideas.

latest news

09/11/2015 The Guardian

Concern over No 10’s ‘military ethos in schools’ initiative is prompting charities to press the government over its commitment to the UN children’s treaty

04/11/2015 figures compiled by ForcesWatch

Government figures indicate that, since the Military Ethos in schools projects were announced in 2012, £45.185million of new funding has been awarded to them. Most of this new funding comes from the Department for Education. A further £50million was pledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the July 2015 budget for expanding cadet units in schools to 2020.

21/10/2015 The Guardian

French soldiers have been criticised by the French MoD and local education authorities for having school pupils aged 10 and under try out unloaded assault rifles. There had been no similar outcry regarding similar armed forces activities in schools in the UK, which are driven by the UK MoD.

21/10/2015 ForcesTV; Army

A major new Army officer recruitment drive is targeting university students. Why is this acknowledged as 'recruitment', when similar activities in schools are not?

20/10/2015 Children's Commissioner for Wales, ForcesWatch, Child Soldiers International

ForcesWatch are encouraging people in Wales to fill in the Children's Commissioner for Wales' 'What Next?' survey, asking her to work on two things: helping to make sure the Welsh Government acts to improve transparency and balance regarding armed forces visits to schools in Wales (the Welsh Government recently committed to doing this), and lobbying the UK government to end the armed forces' recruitment of under-18s.

30/09/2015 BBC Wales

Concerns over how many visits army officers make to schools in deprived areas will be debated by assembly members on Wednesday.

29/09/2015 BAE Systems

Evidence suggests that the BAE Systems-RAF team that visits primary and secondary schools ostensibly to encourage students to take an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, gives students a sanitised, glamourised image of both BAE and the RAF.