Our 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 military 'engagement' with children and young adults is benign.
We recognise the great importance of debate and critical thinking in helping young people make an informed choice about the military and its activities. This is particularly important for those thinking of a career in the forces, a uniquely risk-laden occupation, as our research on how mental health issues and risks of fatality particularly affect young service personnel indicates. If the military are allowed to have a presence and influence in the UK education system then it should be balanced by a thorough exploration of opposing views and approaches, as demanded by the 1996 Education Act.
We provide written and audio-visual information and workshop materials which explore the issues and concerns, to facilitate debate. We also support those who wish to go a step further and call for an complete end to the military's influence in schools or colleges that they have a connection with.
Brief overview of the military's influence in UK schools and colleges
In 2011-12, the most recent year for which UK-wide data are available, UK armed forces visited around 11,000 secondary schools and colleges - a big increase on the 1000 visits made in 2008. Their teams offer presentations, ‘careers' sessions (including mock interviews), team activities, lesson plans, away days, and much more (see our briefing on military activity in UK schools). They also offer resources to teachers, various scholarships to students in the sixth form or Further Education which commit them to joining the armed forces when they finish their studies, and a soldier is accompanying every coach of school students from state schools in England to the First World War battlefields (the centrepiece of the government's Centenary programme) for 'educational' purposes. In addition, the Department for Education havel created a 'Military Ethos in Schools' programme for disadvantaged state schools in England. The programme include a major expansion of Combined Cadet Forces, the Troops to Teachers scheme, the development of military 'academies' and 'free schools', and 'alternative provision with a military ethos' - military-style activities instead of normal lessons, for young people who are - or who are at risk of becoming - 'disengaged'. Lastly, there are numerous days in schools each year that have a military focus: Remembrance day, Red White and Blue Day, Camo Day, Uniform to Work Day, and National Heroes Day.
Are military-led activities and military approaches appropriate within the education system? What about aspects of the 'military ethos' which are very different to the values of education, such as unquestioning obedience to 'superiors' rather than critical thinking? To what extent is this policy driven by militarism - the systematic promotion of the military and military approaches? We recognise that armed forces-related activities in schools can provide exciting and beneficial experiences, but we believe that there are alternative, non-military organisations and approaches that can have the same positive results, without the agendas of recruitment (with all the risks and downsides this brings) and deliberately giving students a positive impression of the armed forces.
Can military-led activities within schools and colleges, which aim to promote the armed forces and a 'military ethos', give students a balanced point of view? The Ministry of Defence have claimed that their schools engagement is not about recruiting young people into the armed forces, but this is based on the very narrow definition of 'recruitment', where it literally means signing up then and there on school premises (which would be impossible for the majority of students, who are minors, as they would need parental/guardian permission). The MoD note in numerous publications that, in terms of students signing up in the days, weeks, and years afterwards, visits to schools and colleges are a 'powerful tool for facilitating recruitment'. They also state that school visits are an important way to 'influence future opinion-formers' (see our briefing on military activity in UK schools). We argue that visits to schools are themselves recruitment activities. In coming into 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." Some of the research that informed the Military Ethos in Schools policy notes the advantages to both armed forces reserves recruitment, and finding employment for military veterans. ForcesWatch believe that the best interests of young people are often different from the best interests of the military. If we do not provide a challenge to the military's engagement with our children, we are failing them. At minimum, schools and colleges should be ensuring that there is balanced debate, and should require parent/guardian consent for students to take part in an armed forces visit/trip, and to join the CCF, so as to acknowledge the controversial nature of these activities.
Many of the biggest teachers' unions in the UK oppose armed forces visits to schools and colleges and/or the Military Ethos in Schools programme: the Educational Institute of Scotland calls for a ban on “military recruitment campaigns in all schools and colleges”, and the National Union of Teachers oppose military recruitment activities in schools which employ "misleading propaganda". Critics of the Troops to Teachers scheme include the NUT, the Association of School and College Leaders, NASUWT, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and the National Association of Head Teachers. Critics of the Combined Cadet Force include UCAC in Wales, who object to the CCF because it comes "too close to constituting recruitment activity".
Different stances of schools: as mentioned above, schools have a range of stances on military influence. For example, Bro Myrddin Welsh Comprehensive School has for many years banned the armed forces from visiting or providing any resources (although in the rare cases where a pupil wants to join the armed forces, the Careers Wales Officer based at the school helps them get relevant information). Similarly, Trinity Catholic School in Leamington Spa do not have visits from the armed forces or a Combined Cadet Force; their head teacher Chris Gabbett opposes the Military Ethos in Schools programme ('I would suggest that channelling the same funding to improve numeracy and cultural and functional literacy for their younger siblings may have a greater chance of breaking the cycle of poverty, without promoting a military ethos... I think to maintain a local, school based [Combined Cadet] force is anathema to promoting a message of peace') and the recruitment of 16 and 17 year-olds into the armed forces. However, Trinity do allow community cadet units to give assemblies, as part of a rounded education, allowing students to decide whether they want to join or not. A school with a 'neutral' stance is St Teilo's in Cardiff, which does not have a relationship with the armed forces and does permit armed forces visits. Some schools integrate critical thinking on the military’s youth engagement into the curriculum, by inviting an organisation like ForcesWatch or Veterans for Peace UK in to facilitate a workshop, or by creating their own teaching units on the issue, such as the ‘Young people in the military’ unit taken by a year 9 class in one inner-London academy.
In numerous cases students have taken it upon themselves to challenge the influence of the military in their schools: Members of School Students Against War did leafleting and other forms of protest to highlight and oppose military influence in schools in England and Scotland in 2007-8. More recently, in 2012 two students at Heaton Manor School in Newcastle organised pressure from students and parents after the school set up a cadet force, to which badly-behaved students were sent during lessons on Thursdays. The school promised a consultation, but this never happened. In 2013 students at a school in London didn’t cooperate with Army Reservists running a ‘team-building’ day because they felt that the presentation of the Army Reserve was too one-sided and the Reservists packed up and left at lunchtime. Other students have only cooperated on their terms, such as Emma, who went to a private school for sixth form, where, in order to do A-Level PE she had to join the cadet force; uncomfortable with shooting at human targets and video footage of real people, she instead fired old wooden rifles at non-human targets, and she refused to salute during marching drill.
If you or someone you know have done something like this, if you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to request a workshop or talk for your school, college, university, or group, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7837 2822.