ForcesWatch comment

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.’

30/06/2015

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.

Data protection expert Tim Turner says this use of the data would have breached data protection laws: “They would need consent which they don’t have … and they would need to tell the young people that the data was being shared, which they haven’t done.”

After having their request rejected, the Army employee behind the request, from their 'information superiority branch' based at the Army's headquarters in Andover, emailed the DfE requesting information about the appeals process; it’s unclear whether a formal appeal has been submitted.

All this undermines the two claims by the MoD quoted in the original news coverage of the story: firstly, that they aren’t targeting individuals for recruitment, and secondly that the request was an error that had been “halted”. The MoD have refused to comment.

We know that the armed forces visit schools for recruitment purposes so they can avoid the influence of parents and other ‘gatekeepers.’ This would have allowed them to do that more effectively.

27/06/2015

Letter to The Independent (see all signatories below)

Towns and cities across the UK will today (27 June) be “celebrating” Armed Forces Day. Many councils hold these events as signatories to the Armed Forces Community Covenant; almost every local authority has pledged support to the armed forces in perpetuity, and hundreds of businesses, charities and 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.

Rather than institutionalising public support for the armed forces we should stop selling war to children through sanitised celebration of the military and the promotion of “military ethos” in schools. It is unacceptable for the UK to be the only country in the EU to still recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces, defying the growing international consensus against child recruitment.

As one of the thousands of signatories of our petition to change the law said: “Children should be protected from conflict, not incorporated in it.”

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi UK
Emma Sangster, ForcesWatch
Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK
Bruce Kent, Abolition of War
Matt Jeziorski, Peace Education Network
Claire Poyner, Network for Peace 
Philip Austin, Northern Friends Peace Board 
Brian Larkin, Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

Sign the petition here


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Welcome to the ForcesWatch blog

07/11/2011

ForcesWatch will be using this blog to comment on current developments and areas that concern us. If you would like to receive blog articles by email, please enter your email address to the right. And please add your comments to the articles.....

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Film launch

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

Militarisation in everyday life in the UK
An event in October 2013 which brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on the implications of militarisation of UK society. See more here including background reading and films of presentations.