Armed forces visits to schools in Scotland: A lack of transparency and insufficient consultation

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Summary

Data on number of visits is currently only available through freedom of information requests or parliamentary questions and there are inconsistencies in format, quality and across datasets. The data collected by the armed forces could be made publicly accessible. Existing data sources relating to school and careers provision could also be explored as a way of collecting any additional information necessary.

Neither the armed forces, nor the MoD, nor schools, nor councils, automatically publish data on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland. The data has to be obtained by members of the public, and usually has to be reorganised substantially before it can be analysed. Poor record-keeping on the part of the armed forces and other bodies has added to this lack of transparency. In addition, there is insufficient consultation with parents and guardians as to whether they are content with their children/guardees taking part in armed forces activities, and there is evidence to suggest that schools do not always initiate the visits, contrary to the claims of the MoD and the armed forces. All this is very concerning, given the armed forces agendas of recruitment and raising positive awareness behind the visits, and the uneven distribution of the visits across Scotland.

Local authorities have very different arrangements regarding consultation and not all are agreed that parents and pupils should be able to opt out of armed forces activities. We believe that pupils and parents must have the same right to object on the grounds of conscience to armed forces activities, as service personnel have.

There should be different levels of parent/guardian and pupil consultation depending on the type of activity and the age of the children involved. Consultation guidelines should be developed with young people, parents and teacher organisations and standardised across Scotland. Managing children taken out of sessions as a result could use similar procedures as for children who don’t take part in religious activities.

Detail

The limitations of the available data

Numerous discrepencies make us doubt if any of the available data on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland is completely reliable. They are listed below. In addition, it should be noted that the military have sometimes listed different activities that occurred on the same day at the same school as separate visits, whereas we have standardised the data so that a 'visit' to a school relates to a single day, even if more than one activity with more one or more year groups took place. We therefore only have a minimum picture of the visits.

* In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in 2013 for data on visits to schools in Scotland during the academic year 2012-13, the Army stated that it did, 'not have confidence in the consistency or completeness of individual school data for the period in question.' It claimed that from April 2013, ‘educational outreach is being collated and managed centrally, with greater levels of detail held. This should allow for better reporting in the future.' This could account for the relatively few visits recorded by the Army for 2010-11 and 2011-12 in the local authorities in the west of the central belt, including Glasgow. The MoD did provide the 2012-13 Army data two years later, but it diverges significantly from data obtained by Parliamentary Question (PQ, see below), and from FOI data for 2010-12, and we therefore deemed it unusable.

* PQ data provided in 2013 for the year 2011-12 suggests that in Scotland 304 visits were made to schools and colleges by the Navy, 491 by the Army, and 416 by the RAF – a total of 1211. The comparable figures from the FOI data are 267, 347, and 221 respectively – a total of 835 visits. The FOI figures thus record over 350 fewer visits.

* There are also major discrepancies between the PQ data provided in 2013 (for the years 2011-12), and in 2015 (for the years 2010-15), which cover visits across the UK. The data provided in 2013 shows a high number of visits made by the Army and RAF in 2011-12, and disaggregate the visits by country (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and England). In contrast, the data provided in 2015 (for the years 2010-15) shows far fewer Army and RAF visits for 2011-12, and aggregate the RAF visits for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and England and Wales, respectively. This aggregation makes it impossible to analyse the data by individual country. The MoD unconvincingly claimed that disaggregation would have been at ‘disproportionate cost’; they must have disaggregated them in order to group the two pairs of countries in the first place. The MoD also stated that the difference in the two datasets for the year 2011-12 was due – in the case of the RAF – to a shift from manual data recording to a computerised system; not all manually-collected data was transferred to the computer system, ‘therefore, the previously manually collected data is more accurate’. In the case of the Army, the discrepancy was due to the fact that although the computer system was used in 2011-12, identifying which visits were to schools was ‘problematic’, as a ‘specific code’ for these was only introduced in April 2013, and it was therefore ‘often quicker and easier to ask Recruiting Offices for a summary of their activity. These summaries were based on local records, and were not always fully collated.’

* In addition, the PQ data provided in 2015 shows major fluctuation in the number of visits over the 2010-15 period, including for Scotland specifically, with an overall decline  (due mainly to the big decrease in visits by the Army, who typically conduct far more visits than the Navy and RAF). The MoD claimed this decline was due to, ‘a range of factors’, including the fact that between 2012 to 2015 the RAF operated a system that sought to connect with pupils mainly through social media and marketing. This has changed and the emphasis is now on a return to personal contact and enhanced schools visits’. However, a reliable trend is difficult to determine due to inconsistencies and unreliability of the data, and it has not been possible to get full figures on individual visits for these years to compare with. In any case, the available data still shows a significant increase in the number of visits since 2003. The Navy data obtained from the PQs seems more consistent than the Army and RAF data, but it is incomplete for the years 2010-11 and 2012-13.

* Although this briefing focuses on visits to Scottish secondary schools, it is important to note that visits are also made to Scottish primary schools, and even nurseries, and the extent of these visits is not known. The RAF’s poor record-keeping regarding these visits is evidenced by its claim in 2015 that, ‘There have been no official RAF visits to primary schools in Scotland between 2010 and 2015’; data previously obtained by ForcesWatch shows that there were at least two. In 2015, the MoD claimed, ‘The Army only engages with students in Academic Year 9 [S2 in Scotland] and above’. There should therefore be no more Army visits to primary schools in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, and it would be reasonable to expect the Navy and RAF to make a similar commitment.

* The MoD no longer hold the data on visits to schools in Scotland that they provided in response to FOI requests in 2006. Similarly, the Army have deleted their records of responses to numerous FOI requests on their visits to schools in Scotland prior to 2010. However, it is not just the military’s record-keeping that is worrying; Careers Scotland (now called Skills Development Scotland), said ‘it had no details of how many army events it had hosted [prior to 2006].’

 

Insufficient consultation with parents/guardians

Responses to the Public Petitions Committee show that local authorities have very different arrangements regarding consultation and not all are agreed that parents and pupils should be able to opt out of armed forces activities. We believe that pupils and parents must have the same right to object on the grounds of conscience to armed forces activities, as service personnel have.

There should be different levels of parent/guardian and pupil consultation depending on the type of activity and the age of the children involved. Consultation guidelines should be developed with young people, parents and teacher organisations and standardised across Scotland. Managing children taken out of sessions as a result could use similar procedures as for children who don’t take part in religious activities.

In 2006, the head of the Scottish Parents Teacher Council, Judith Gillespie, said of armed forces visits to schools in Scotland that, “There has to be consultation with parents about this, particularly if schools are suddenly allowing a big increase in the number of visits from the army." The SPTC confirmed in 2015 that their stance remains the same. (Source: email, May 2015) 

Parents need to be consulted for the following reasons:

 - The armed forces are promoting their careers which entail a unique set of risks, legal obligations and ethical concerns.

 - Parents cannot themselves be present to monitor and respond to the activities.

 - Many parents will view the promotion of military approaches within the education system to be a cause for concern.

 - Parents must be able to have a say in issues which may affect the health and well-being of their children.

 - The armed forces view schools and parents as 'gatekeepers' - authority figures in young people's lives. Visits to schools have the effect of bypassing parental gatekeepers which makes it vital that schools not only act in the best interests of students themselves but also allow parents to act in their children's interests also.

However, schools do not always consult with parents before the visits. Around two-thirds of the 24 Scottish councils who responded to our FOI question on this said that their schools consult parents/guardians regarding any visits from external organisations, with several specifying that parents/guardians are welcome to discuss any concerns with school management, but five councils - East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, Inverclyde and Stirling - leave it to headteachers’ discretion, and two councils – Clackmannanshire and Glasgow City - do not consult. East Renfrewshire only refer to armed forces presence at careers fairs, and say that students usually attend these with their parents, implying that consultation is therefore not necessary.

 

Evidence undermining claims that the armed forces only visit ‘after being invited'

The MoD and the armed forces have repeatedly claimed that, 'The armed forces...would only ever visit a school after being invited by a teacher to support school activities.'

Schools’ consent is obviously necessary for a visit to not be deemed trespassing, but despite the very small amount of available data, there is evidence suggesting that in Scotland the armed forces have made the first approach on at least some occasions:

* In 2010, Christine Grahame MSP, a former teacher, obtained a document showing that Western Isles schools had not invited the armed forces to visit, but that one school had a course scheduled with the RAF. An MoD spokesperson claimed that, ‘many requests from schools are informal or verbal. The Armed Forces then put the details in writing, hence Miss Grahame’s assumptions the visits are made at their behest.'

* However, one of the few recorded correspondences between schools and the armed forces in Aberdeenshire in 2009 clearly shows that the RAF made the first approach. The member of school staff states: ‘I recently received the leaflet detailing supports the RAF can offer schools and was wondering if you would be available to deliver a series of presentations on Interview Techniques to our S4 classes…’ (Source: response to FOI request, 16 July 2015. Available from ForcesWatch on request)

* Similarly, the wording of a 2013 letter to headteachers from the Navy reads very much like information provided unsolicited: ‘Dear Head Teacher, I am writing to inform you about a variety of resources that the Royal Navy and Royal Marines can offer your School…’

* A 2009 talk by the Army at Parkside Primary School in the Scottish Borders was initiated by the former janitor, rather than a teacher.

* Some visits have been organised by Careers Scotland (now Skills Development Scotland), which may have seen correspondence between them and the armed forces, without schools simply confirming through Careers Scotland.

* The Army noted the recommendation in their analysis of a 2013 survey on schools careers guidance that they, 'Approach schools directly - many voiced not knowing where to look for information or to get Army representatives into their school'. There was no reference to this being incompatible with Army policy.

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Ask your MP and MSP to sign

Ask your MP to sign an Early Day Motion on The Recruitment of Minors into the UK Armed Forces.

If you are in Scotland, ask your MSP to sign the motions on the Medact Report on British Armed Forces Recruitment and on the British Army's Increased Intake of 16-year-olds

See more info and sample letters to use here

Scottish Parliament Petition

ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament to:

  • scrutinise armed forces visits to schools in Scotland
  • provide guidance on how such visits should be conducted
  • ensure that parents are always consulted.

The petition is now being heard by the Scottish Parliament. See more info.

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.

See film and more info. With Welsh subtitles

Our military out of schools campaign

The UK armed forces visit thousands of schools each year. They offer school presentation teams, youth teams, ‘careers advice’ and lessons plans. The Department for Education is promoting 'military ethos in schools'. Should the armed forces by given access to children within education? Should 'military values' be promoted in schools? How can we challenge these activities? How can a more balanced view of what life in the armed forces involves be given to young people? Read more about the Military Out Of Schools campaign