Unpacking 'recruitment' - what does the MoD mean when it says it does not recruit in schools?read more >>
Advocating for change
ForcesWatch's work includes raising the following issues in Parliament, the media and the armed forces:
- concerns over the recruitment of under 18 year olds
- terms of service are complicated, confusing and severely restricting, yet unlike any other employment, breaching them can lead to a criminal conviction
- the system for registering a conscientious objection is opaque and little information about it is available to serving personnel
- those in the armed forces are excluded from much human rights legislation. They are not allowed to form a union, speak in public or join political organisations
In 2011, we worked with other organisations to use the opportunity presented by the Armed Forces Act, which provides the basis for military law in the UK, to raise these issues relating to human rights in the armed forces. We continue to press for changes in the recruitment age to 18 years old in line with international standards..
Campaigning to raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18 years
The minimum age for enlisting in the UK armed forces is 16. The UK is the only country in Europe and the only country on the UN Security Council to recruit 16 year olds into its armed forces and is one of fewer than 20 countries in the world which recruit from the age of 16 years. Those who sign on when 16 or 17 must serve until they are 22.
The recruitment of minors has been criticised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Parliament’s own Joint Committee on Human Rights and a number of charities. The following measures would help to bring the UK into line with international human rights standards. They would provide greater protection for the rights of young people and it would mean that adults could not be held to commitments made as minors.
- A timetable is agreed for phasing out the recruitment of minors into the armed forces.
- In the meantime, minors are given a Discharge As Of Right at any point until they turn 18. See CAMPAIGN UPDATE below.
- Until recruitment of minors is phased out completely, those who enlist are able to sign on for the same minimum period as adult recruits, rather than required to serve until turning 22.
- Terms of service should be simplified, so every recruit is clear about the commitment involved.
CAMPAIGN UPDATE: On 19 June 2011, the government announced that it would give teenage soldiers the right to leave the armed forces up until age 18 if they are unhappy. With other organisations, ForcesWatch has been campaigning for under-18s to have the right to leave the forces, and we welcome this development - see more. This is a significant improvement on the current situation which gives under 18s the right to leave only between the 2nd and 6th month of service. Additionally, the legislation allows for a possible reduction in the notice period of 12 months for those aged over 18. These changes came into force in July 2011 - read more here. We will continue to monitor whether recruits are made aware of these new rights.
Read our briefing on Recruitment of Under 18s in the UK Armed Forces
Campaigning to increase awareness about conscientious objection
Life in the armed forces can have a significant effect on the outlook and attitudes of those who undertake it. Exposure to warfare can radically alter a person’s values and beliefs.
The armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection. But this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it. The system for registering a conscientious objection is opaque and little information about it is easily available. Legislation that fully upholds the right to conscientious objection and makes its procedures accessible and transparent should be passed.
ForcesWatch suggests that the following measures would contribute significantly to this aim:
- The right to conscientious objection, and the basic procedures for applying for discharge, should be unified across the three forces and set down clearly in primary legislation (the Armed Forces Bill).
- The Notice Paper, which all recruits sign on joining the armed forces, should state clearly that there is a right to discharge due to conscientious objection.
- Information on conscientious objection should be freely available to all members of the armed forces. It should be mentioned in appropriate literature.
- Ethical concerns should be formally treated as conscientious objection, and recorded as such, whether or not the term “conscientious objection” is used by the person concerned.
- People registering conscientious objection should be suspended from duty while the application is considered.
- Objections, where seen to be based on political reasons, should be viewed as a matter of inner conviction as to right or wrong, rather than merely as an opinion.
Read our briefing on Conscientious Objection in the UK Armed Forces
Campaigning to improve terms and conditions of service within the armed forces
Employment in the armed forces is unique in placing severe restrictions on rights and freedoms that are available to the rest of the UK population. The armed forces are also the only employers in the UK who legally require their employees to commit themselves for several years, with the risk of a criminal conviction if they try to leave sooner.
This situation is all the more worrying given that the majority of recruits are very young. There is also evidence that many personnel are unclear about the length of their commitment and their rights to leave and that the information they receive can be misleading.
Forces Watch suggests that the following measures would contribute significantly to this aim.
- An overall reduction in the minimum length of service, perhaps to two years.
- The same minimum length of service for all three services, helping to avoid confusion.
- A change to the requirement to give a year’s notice (or eighteen months in the RAF) of the intention to leave when the minimum time period is up. This could be reduced to six months for all three branches of the forces. See CAMPAIGN UPDATE above.
- All under 18s should have the right to leave the forces if they choose. See CAMPAIGN UPDATE above.
- Bring the period for discharge as of right for over 18s in the army in line with over 18s in the Navy and RAF.
- Simplified terms of service, so every recruit is clear about the commitment involved.
- A commitment to improve freedom of expression and association for members of the forces in line with the Council of Europe recommendations.
Read our briefing on Terms of Service in the UK Armed Forces
One Step Forward: The case for ending recruitment of minors by the British armed forces
Public support rise in army recruitment age
ForcesWatch press releases
The Military in Society
ForcesWatch observe and respond to ways in which the military is being promoted 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.
The government are looking to the military to provide solutions to social problems. For example, the Department for Education are promoting 'military skills and ethos' in national education policy as a response to the crisis they perceive in education. The armed forces already make thousands of visits to schools and colleges in the UK. 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? Is the operation of the chain of command, such as within school-based cadet forces, appropriate within an educational setting?
The military are increasingly visible at public events such as the 2012 Olympics. The armed forces were involved in the event in many ways, from security to attendance at ceremonies. Is the presence of armed security and missiles on rooftops the future for public events? How does this determine the acceptable level of arms and armed forces seen in our public spaces?
In recent years, the act of remembrance has taken on a celebratory dimension. Remembrance of those who have suffered in war has been made inseparable from supporting 'our heroes' active in recent and ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of veterans have expressed concern that the poppy is becoming politicised on the one hand and increasingly like show business on the other - see below.
Many other ways in which the military is becoming more visible in everyday life can be traced back to the 2008 Report of Inquiry into the National Recognition of the Armed Forces. This report recommended 40 measures for 'increasing visibility', 'improving contact', 'building understanding' and 'encouraging support' for the armed forces. Measures incluces more support for homecoming parades; more involvement of the armed forces in schools and the expansion of the cadet forces; and, the establishment of Armed ForcesDay.
More recent policy will also have an impact on the involvement of the armed forces in civilian life. The Armed Forces Community Covenants are a kind of contract between local communities and their armed forces "to support the service community in their area and promote understanding and awareness among the public of issues affecting the armed forces community". By late 2012 half of all UK local authorities had signed a covenant and £5 million of central government funding had been given for promotion and grants to local initiatives including those in schools and play activities. The Future Reserves policy will increase the role of the reserve forces as the size of regular forces are reduced. This will require a greater commitment from society in order to attract a larger number of people to the reserves. The consultation document of 2012 identified that changing relationships with employers, education and reservists themselves would be needed.
As the armed forces become embedded further into civilian life and their needs prioritised, what is the impact of these policies on public life in the UK? Are we creating a society in which it will become very difficult for young people to develop a critical awareness about military issues? Will they have the awareness they need to make an informed decisions about joining up? Will alternatives to war look less feasible? How will this affect them and wider society as a whole?
Poppies and 'Heroes'
The Poppy Appeal is once again subverting Armistice Day. A day that should be about peace and remembrance is turned into a month-long drum roll of support for current wars. This year's campaign has been launched with showbiz hype. The true horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored.
The public are being urged to wear a poppy in support of "our Heroes". There is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle. There is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about fighting in an unnecessary conflict.
Remembrance should be marked with the sentiment "Never Again".
Ben Griffin (Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq)
Ben Hayden (Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq)
Terry Wood (Northern Ireland, Falklands)
Ken Lukowiak (Northern Ireland, Falklands)
Neil Polley (Falklands)
Steve Pratt (Dhofar, Northern Ireland)
Poppy appeal's original aims being subverted, veterans complain
Critics say event is drum-roll for current conflicts but Royal British Legion says new approach has raised awareness
A group of veterans from conflicts including the Falklands and Northern Ireland have complained of the increasing glitz and glamour of the annual poppy appeal and of it being hijacked to marshall public support behind current campaigns.
In a letter in tomorrow's Guardian, the veterans argue that the original aim of the appeal as a sombre commemoration of the war dead and the horrors of conflict was in danger of being lost amid the marketing spin and tub-thumping political aims.
"A day that should be about peace and remembrance is turned into a month-long drum-roll of support for current wars. This year's campaign has been launched with showbiz hype. The true horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored," they write.
The Royal British Legion organises the annual appeal, as well as events such as the festival of remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and the service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall – this year on Sunday 14 November – and hopes to raise £36m, £2m more than last year. The sum is about half what it spends annually in supporting former servicemen and women.
This year's appeal was launched by the girl band the Saturdays at Colchester barracks, the Armed Services extreme flight team have held a "jump for heroes" with white parachutes decorated with red poppies and red smoke flares over Essex, and organisers persuaded the X Factor judges to start wearing poppies on the programme weeks ago.
As well as the buttonhole paper poppy, jute poppy bags, poppy jewellery (from £4.99), poppy T-shirts, scarves, caps and ties, cufflinks and tie-slides, not to mention more permanent lapel badges, are also on sale.
For some, it's all too much. "I am not sure I agree with all that," said the elderly RAF veteran with his cardboard tray of paper poppies outside a Sainsbury's in Kent. "It's a wonderful cause, but it's all getting a bit – what's the word? – excessive: a bit wallowing. I wouldn't like to say so openly though."
With all last survivors of the first world war now dead – Harry Patch, the last soldier to have served on the Western Front, died aged 111 last year – and veterans of the second world war in their 80s, the legion is using new ways to turn the public's attention to the casualties of newer conflicts.
Posters this year with the slogan "It only takes a second to put on a poppy" show a serviceman strapping on an artificial leg and a young widow with her baby daughter at the grave of her partner. It is the style and also the apparent politics of supporting our boys in unpopular wars such as Afghanistan and Iraq that has caused complaints.
The veterans' letter organiser is Ben Griffin, a London ambulance driver who served nine years in the Parachute Regiment, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, before refusing to return for a further term of service because of his concerns about US military tactics.
He said: "We are concerned that people are trying to take ownership of the poppy for political ends. It is almost as if they are trying to garner support for our boys and any criticism of the wars is a betrayal.
"That is not what the poppy was all about to start with: it was all about remembrance and peace: never again. The government should be supporting these casualties: they are their liability, not the British Legion's."
Ken Lukowiak, who served in the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland between 1979 and 1984, and is now an author, is another signatory. He said: "I don't have a problem with the British Legion, which does wonderful work, but it is the sanitisation which concerns me.
"Part of me wants to be sensitive to the families who have lost loved ones and part of me wants to throw a bucket of blood into the living rooms of the nation every night to show people the true meaning of war.
"This year's poppy appeal is too showbizzy, too much glamour and glitz. It's like they are turning on the Christmas lights in Regent Street."
Robert Lee, the British Legion's spokesman, is unrepentant. "I am glad that they have noticed the change in campaigning. It's a fair cop. There have been criticisms, mainly from older veterans.
"We are the national custodians of remembrance but we are living in contemporary society. Not everything we do with the poppy appeal has to be static and serious, or conducted with a frown. It was very generous of the X Factor wearing poppies – that's caused quite a stir of Twitter, with people asking what they are.
"There is nothing in our appeal or campaigning which supports, or does not support, war: we are totally neutral. We are not a warmongering organisation. We don't have a position on war in Iraq or anywhere else. These boys don't send themselves to Iraq – that's a decision for the politicians.
"We help 160,000 cases a year, servicemen and women and their families. We represent widows at inquests, we fight for compensation for victims who have lost limbs. We are in there, up to our elbows dealing with the cost of conflict."
The poppy became a symbol of remembrance after the Canadian surgeon John McCrae hurriedly penned his verse In Flanders Fields in the back of a field ambulance at Ypres in May 1915, but it was only after the war that the flower came to symbolise remembrance of the war dead.
McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis in January 1918 after three years spent patching up the wounded from the trenches. His poem ends: "If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields."
news items relating to these issues
Military Out Of Schools
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.
A ForcesWatch briefing on the Government policy of expanding cadets and promoting 'military skills and ethos' in schools. It looks at:
- what are the cadet forces
- how will the cadet forces be expanded
- why is this happening - who benefits
- why is this a problem
- what can we do about it
This ForcesWatch briefing outlines the methods and rationale of the military's engagement with young people within the education system and highlights potential developments in this area, including projects under consideration or development by the Armed Forces and the Department of Education.read more >>
Up and down the country on the 30th June street parties, picnics and military tattoos are taking place for Armed Forces Day. Despite the rhetoric of tradition, the day is relatively new to Britain's military history, with the first occurrence taking place in 2009, replacing Veterans' Day, which ran from 2006-2009.
Some see the institution of another national occasion relating to the Armed Forces (i.e. in addition to Remembrance Day) as indicative of a growing culture of militarisation across the country. After consultation with parents, teachers and students who are concerned with the unquestioning attitude of acceptance towards the military and their activities in the public sphere, ForcesWatch has produced the following lesson plans and activities for those working in schools and other youth organisations to use, free of charge, with their students or group members. This is a direct response to the materials produced by the Armed Forces for teachers.read more >>
This ForcesWatch briefing is for parents, students and teachers concerned with military activities in their school. It looks at:
- how and why the armed forces engage with schools and colleges
- perspecitves on armed forces activities in schools and colleges
- things to think about before raising concerns with the school
- points and questions to raise with the school
- alternatives to military-led activities
- sources of more information
other resources on military in schools
If you want to join the Army make sure you know ALL the facts before you sign up.Don’t find out the hard way!
Information from AT EASE for young people and to be given to young people.
Before You Sign Up has a useful page on Recruiting in schools and colleges. This website also has a lesson plan devised for Citizenship Key Stage 4. The learning outcomes are: an outline understanding of life as a soldier, including the pros and cons; understand and speak about ethical issues involved in recruiting young people from age 16 into the armed forces; ability to deconstruct a TV advertisement; and, bring critical awareness to an important social issue.
This research published in 2010 has found that the army visited 40% of London schools from September 2008 to April 2009 and disproportionately visits schools in the most disadvantaged areas. The researchers conclude that, “the army's recruitment activities in schools risk jeopardising the rights and future welfare of the young people contacted.
military & education discussion list
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Join us for a discussion on the role of the armed forces in mainstream education. Not only do the armed forces visit thousands of schools each year but the military is becoming more integrated into Britain's education system with 'military ethos' presented as a solution to educational problems,
We invite you to come and discuss the issues and whether it is appropriate for the military to engage with young people in schools and colleges.
Next event: London, Tuesday 7 May 2013, 7pm
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London Venue details and map here
With Victoria Basham (University of Exeter), Tom Burkard (Centre for Policy Studies), Ben Griffin (ex-SAS and founder of Veterans for Peace) and others.
Chaired by Alex Kelly (The Access Project)