our projects

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

Our current focus is campaigning to raise the age of armed forces recruitment to 18 years old in line with international standards.

Scroll down further for more about our campaigning work in these areas.

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. Phasing out recruitment of under-18s would bring the UK into line with international human rights standards. It 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. See more on concerns about recruiting under 18s

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: October 2013: as part of the Government response to the Defence Committee's report, The Armed Forces Covenant in Action? Part 4: Education of Service Personnel, the Government have agreed 'that the Armed Forces should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the recruitment of U18s and work has been set in hand with the Army to look at this.' This is a significant step forward and ForcesWatch will be urging the Government to consider all the costs, not just the financial, particularly those borne by individual recruits, when reviewing the issue.

See more of our campaign work on raising the age of recruitment below 

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.

Read our briefing on Conscientious Objection in the UK Armed Forces

See more on conscientious objection here


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.

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 Terms of Service in the UK Armed Forces

For more on this issue see here

recent campaigning news & resources

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

12 September 2014

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, shows that the taxpayer would save approximately £50 million per annum if the minimum age of recruitment were raised to 18; it would also result in the army needing to find about 211 fewer new recruits annually, based on current numbers joining the trained strength.

The paper concludes that the case to cease recruiting from age 16 is now overwhelming and urges a full, independent review of the policy, with a view to phasing out the recruitment of minors as an unnecessary, cost-ineffective, and fundamentally unethical practice.

Defence Committee report challenges the MoD (again) to produce a 'robust and thorough' review of under 18 recruitment

6 March 2014: The Defence Select Committee have today released their report of inquiry into the MoD's Future Army 2020 plan. Amid the concerns about the strategy of increasing the proportion of reservists in relation to regular forces, the report calls on the MoD “to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans”. Read our submission to the inquiry here.

Read more

Raising the age of recruitment: an open letter and a cautious welcome of the MoD review

8 November 2013: ForcesWatch are among 24 signatories of an open letter to Mark Francois MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces which calls for an end to the recruitment of under-18s.. The signatories include the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Unitarian Church and Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker groups and Child Soldiers International. The letter notes that as the centenary of the outbreak of World War One approaches, the recruitment and deployment age of British soldiers is lower now than it was a century ago. The signatories call on the Ministry to raise the recruitment age to 18 as a “fitting memorial” to the thousands of young soldiers killed in World War One.

ForcesWatch welcomes the statement by the Government that it "agrees that the Armed Forces should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the recruitment of U18s" but we are concerned that it be as independent and transparent as possible and cover all the issues affecting the welfare of young recruits within the armed forces. Despite commissioning the review, the MoD continue to maintain that "There are currently no plans to revisit the Government's recruitment policy for under-18s".

Read more 

ForcesWatch submission to Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties

March 2014

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties draws on our research published in The Last Ambush and concludes that:

  • The continued targeted recruitment of minors from disadvantaged backgrounds deserves to be re-appraised from the perspective of long-term mental health risks that this group faces. 
  • Where possible, we hope that the development of military health research will better specify personnel who face higher and lower risks.
  • Future research could also better account for personnel who show some symptoms of mental ill-health but are not counted as full ‘cases’ of a specific ‘disorder’. 
  • A large number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to need mental health support services for years to come.  It falls to the state to take prime responsibility for ensuring that the long-term welfare needs of injured veterans are met.  That is an expensive undertaking, which it behoves any government to appreciate and accept before deciding whether to send young men and women to war

The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces

28 October 2013

This report from ForcesWatch, shows that young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health. 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.

Download the full report (PDF 1294kb)

Download the Executive Summary (PDF 268kb)

Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan

August 2013

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 and 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.

ForcesWatch submission to Defence Select Committee Future Army 2020 inquiry

June 2013

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Committee's inquiry Future Army 2020, which recomments an evaluation of the case for an independent review of the minimum age of recruitment into the Army with a view to recruiting only adults (aged 18 and above) in the future, looking at five reasons why the time is right for this.

One Step Forward: The case for ending recruitment of minors by the British armed forces

April 2013

This report published by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch outlines the numerous ethical and legal concerns related to rhe recruitment of under-18s, including the disproportionately high level of risk they face and long-term consequences for their employability, as well as detailing how much more it costs than recruiting only adults.

Mind the Gap: Education for minors in the British armed forces

July 2012

The minimum recruitment age for the British armed forces – 16 years – is one of the lowest in the world. The Ministry of Defence has traditionally justified recruiting from this age group by asserting that 16 years reflects the minimum statutory school leaving age.

This report concludes that the impact of recruitment below the age of 18 opens up a number of gaps that have long term significance, not only for the armed forces but also for the young people that they recruit. At a time of considerable downsizing of the army in particular, the large gap between the cost of training minors (who cannot be deployed operationally) and adults (who can) is difficult to sustain. But perhaps the most significant cost is in the detrimental impact that the gaps identified have on the future prospects of minors recruited by our armed forces.

Catch 16-22: Recruitment and retention of minors in the British Armed Forces

March 2011

This report, published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "challenges the status quo currently surrounding the situation of young people in the UK armed forces today. It questions the ethics and legality of the restrictions on young recruits’ rights of discharge, their minimum period of service, and their exposure to the risk of hostilities. The report also makes the case for a considered review and debate on the minimum recruitment age. It highlights the evidence that not only is the experience of recruits in the 16 – 18 age bracket adversely affected by their relative lack of maturity, but that their high drop-out rate results in millions of pounds in wasted expenditure."

Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment in 2014

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

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

related news

03/06/2014 Open Democracy

Child Soldiers International: We now face the prospect of 16 year old girls joining the army in combat roles.

25/05/2014 The Independent

MoD finds itself in the company of countries such as North Korea over use of teenage soldiers

25/05/2014 Child Soldiers International press release

Amid ongoing controversy around the MoD’s struggling recruitment campaigns for the armed forces, figures published this week reveal that the Army has resorted to increasing numbers of 16-year-olds in an attempt to fix the recruitment shortfall.

06/03/2014 Child Soldiers International press release

The Defence Select Committee has increased the pressure on the MoD to stop enlisting minors, in a report published today.

"We call for the minimum recruitment age to be returned to 18 years. This would be a fitting memorial to those thousands who, whether unlawfully recruited as minors during the First World War or recruited to fight in other conflicts, were exposed to death, injury and trauma that no child should ever experience."

08/11/2013 Wales Online

The Ministry of Defence has come under pressure from the Church in Wales and campaign group Child Soldiers International which is calling for an end to recruitment of under-18s to the Army

08/11/2013 Child Soldiers International

Recruitment of 16-year-olds down 40% on previous year; former Armed Forces minister says “Time is right” to review recruitment age

01/11/2013 The Guardian

After telling the Guardian it would not be revisiting its recruitment policy the MoD is doing exactly that

28/10/2013 ForcesWatch press release

Young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health, says a wide-ranging report published today by human rights group ForcesWatch.

28/10/2013 The Guardian

Britain is one of just 19 countries that still recruit 16-year-olds to the armed forces. A new report from ForcesWatch claims that younger recruits are more likely to suffer from PTSD, alcohol problems and suicide than those who join as adults. This video tells the story of David Buck who joined the army at 17 but now feels he was conned by misleading recruitment marketing.

28/10/2013 The Guardian

Former soldiers criticise MoD recruitment practices, with Britain one of only 19 countries to allow 16-year-olds to join up

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 include 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 Forces Day.

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?

The Poppy

David Gee, ForcesWatch, 07/11/2013

When I was about seven, my dad took me to the local Remembrance Day memorial. Neatly turned-out elderly men were stood in equally neat rows while The Last Post was played. I wondered why everyone looked so sad. Dad said it was because their friends had been killed in the war; this day was to remember them. I wore a poppy then and I am glad that I did.


A photo from the British Legion website showing children wearing 'Future Soldier' t-shirts - the poppy as remembrance or as a recruitment tool?  Contact them if you are concerned by this exploitation of remembrance and young people.

Read more here


Poppies and 'Heroes'

5 November 2010

The Guardian

A letter from veterans of a number of conflicts about the the Poppy Appeal and the idea of 'heroism' that it promotes was published in The Guardian and The Independent. One of the signatories, Ben Griffin, is Patron of ForcesWatch.


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)

Film launch and public meeting

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? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

Watch the film and see more info 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.

news items relating to these issues

28/06/2014 Letter to The Times (see all signatories below)

Letter to The Times (see all signatories below)

On this day 100 years ago, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in an action that led to the First World War. Unchecked militarism in Europe was also a major factor. 

Today is also Armed Forces Day, one of the clearest indications of the re-militarisation of British society. Established in 2009 to increase public support for the forces, there are over 200 public events, many billed as 'family fun days'. This week also saw Uniform to Work Day promoting the reserve forces and 'Camo Day' in schools. 

Behind this PR offensive is a raft of policy that is embedding 'public support' for the military within our civilian institutions - from the promotion of 'military ethos' in schools, to the Armed Forces Community Covenant and Corporate Covenant that aim to enlist every local authority and major business to support the armed forces and aid recruitment. 

Over 453 UK service personnel have died in Afghanistan; 34 were just 18 or 19 years old. Thousands more have to cope with long-term physical and mental problems. With so many military casualties - not to mention uncounted numbers of civilians deaths - and new security threats that waging war has created, surely it is time to reflect on the longer-term impact of our military culture and to ask what steps we might take to prevent war itself. 

This article was originally published in Red Pepper

Vron Ware reports on how the Armed Forced Community Covenant is a crucial part of the creeping militarisation of UK society.

As politicians have sought to prove their own commitment to the troops in an effort to control ‘the message’ about the wars, they have effectively turned this public concern into a political instrument. One consequence has been that, within the last two or three years, local authorities up and down the country, from borough to county level, urban, metropolitan and rural, have been ushered into an unprecedented programme of support for the armed forces in their areas. This development is symptomatic of a wider process of integrating military work into civil society, but it also reveals the social costs of maintaining a professional military force at home.

29/06/2014 Herald Scotland

THERE are hook the duck stalls, fairground rides and countless ice-cream vans. But these are not the most popular attractions with the thousands of small children who descended on Stirling yesterday for Armed Forces Day. They seemed to prefer handling the high-velocity sniper rifle, getting to grips with an 81mm mortar or staring down the sights of a Starstreak II missile launcher, with its operator on hand to boast of its "multi-target capability" and 7km range.

28/06/2014 ForcesWatch comment

This article was originally published on openDemocracy

Armed Forces Day represents a major shift in military-civil relations over the last 6 or 7 years that has seen the embedding of the military in civilian institutions in a way never seen before. What will be the impact on how we, as a society, view and accept military activities and military approaches? How will the promotion of the military affect young people as the next generation of 'future soldiers'?

27/06/2014 Ekklesia

“The stirring music, smart uniforms and synchronised marching that characterise Armed Forces Day are a glossy front behind which sits a deliberate strategy to manipulate the public,”

27/06/2014 The Guardian

Giles Fraser asks if the commitment for 100 new cadet force units in state schools by 2015 the best way to mark the start of the first world war?

24/06/2014 The Morning Star

"Machine guns and other weapons were presented to the children as playthings"

17/03/2014 Telegraph

Philip Hammond says he is prepared to introduce new powers to exempt armed forces from human rights laws which are hampering military operations

03/03/2014 Open Democracy

The country’s military institutions must not be seen as deserving of special consideration. Once the ethos of public service has been smashed and discredited by neoliberal restructuring, the danger is that it will take more than an army to bring it back.

23/01/2014 Guardian

Repeat of Afghanistan-or-Iraq-style invasion ruled out for war-weary UK, according to senior officials

Military Out Of Schools

The campaign:

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, and accept that some people would rather that the military be allowed to have a presence and influence and influence in the UK education system than be banned outright from it, as long it is balanced by a thorough exploration of opposing views and approaches, as demanded by the 1996 Education Act (see our case studies below, which show the range of stances). As such, we provide written and video information and workshop materials (see below and to the right) which give a more balanced view of what life in the armed forces is like, and of the military's youth engagement work, which both facilitates debate and supports 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:

The UK armed forces visit around 11,000 schools and colleges each year - a big increase on the 1000 visits made in 2008. Their teams offer presentations, ‘careers' sessions (including mock interviews), team activities, lessons plans, away days, and much more (see our briefing on military activity in UK schools). In addition, Department for Education have created a 'military ethos in schools programme'. The programme include a major expansion of Combined Cadet Forces in disadvantaged English state schools, the Troops to Teachers scheme, the development of military 'academies' and 'free schools', and 'alternative provison with a military ethos' - military-style activities instead of normal lessons, for young people who have been excluded or who are at risk of 'failing'. (Interestingly, the homepage that presents the schemes as being part of the bigger Military Ethos in Schools programme no longer exists)

Our concerns:

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 privileging of the military and military approaches to problems and conflicts? We recognise the exciting and beneficial experiences that armed forces visits and the Military Ethos in Schools programme can provide, but we believe that there are alternative, non-military organisations and approaches that can have the same positive results, without the possible huge downsides of students joining the armed forces as a result and/or carrying a solely-positive impression of the armed forces with them into adult life.

As the current military influence in schools and colleges is very positive towards - and uncritical of - the military, we seek to give students a more 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.

Case studies:

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". (See above for why the visits do represent recruitment) Critics of the Troops to Teachers scheme include the NUT, the Association of School and College Leaders, NASUWT, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, 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 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 CCF, to which badly-behaved students were sent during lessons on Thursdays. The school promised a consultation, but this never happened, and 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 demand 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 you had to join the CCF: 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, or if you have any questions or comments, please get in touch with us at education@forceswatch.net / 020 7837 2822020 7837 2822.

ForcesWatch resources

A short film made by Headliners and ForcesWatch, 2014

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? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

The film focuses on military activities in schools, including presentations and other visits by the armed forces and the Department for Education's 'Military Ethos in Schools' policy - as well as community cadet forces. It looks at young people's experiences and views and ask questions about the agenda behind the 'youth engagement' policy and the reluctance of the Department for Education and Ministry of Defence to discuss it with young people themselves.

This film will encourage young people to reflect on and debate military-related activities aimed at them.


"The army careers advisers who operate in schools are skilled salesmen." Head of Army recruitment strategy, quoted in New Statesman, 2007

The armed forces have a growing involvement in secondary schools, colleges and even primary schools. While the Army, Navy and RAF have long run activities in schools as part of the Ministry of Defence's Youth Engagement programme, the Department for Education have recently begun to promote a 'military ethos' within education.

This A4 leaflet (2014) outlines the issue and what the concerns are.

This 2-sided ForcesWatch briefing (2014):

  • outlines the extent and nature of armed forces visits to schools
  • details the Department for Education's 'Military ethos in schools' policy.
  • outlines the concerns about these activities 
  • suggests what students, parents and others can do to challenge them.

A ForcesWatch poster showing policy, cultural and other recent developments affecting the extent of military influence in young people's lives.




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.


Unpacking 'recruitment' - what does the MoD mean when it says it does not recruit in schools?


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

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.


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

David Gee

in Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It, War Resisters International, 2013

Military recruitment is deeply embedded in the class and economic structures of society. Its methods, thriving on hyper-masculine fantasies of soldiering and, in consumer-capitalist societies in particular, a creeping estrangement from our most humane values, can be understood as a form of human alienation. Even so, despite the continuing success of military recruitment worldwide, it is still perhaps the Achilles heel of militarism. War depends on large numbers of people agreeing to participate in mass killing. If we can work well with young people, their parents, educators and the media, so that equally large numbers pause to reflect on what soldiers are expected to do and why, cracks might open in militarism from the bottom up.


Emma Sangster

in Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It, War Resisters International, 2013

The armed forces are increasingly being provided with access to young people within the UK education system – mainly at secondary and further education level but also within universities and even primary schools. In addition to armed forces presentations and other visits to schools and colleges which have been going on for many years, there is a new push to make 'military ethos and skills' a part of school life.

To understand what is driving these practices and policies it is important to look at the wider dynamics between the armed forces and civil society. This article looks briefly at recent initiatives and developments that reflect a new and concerted effort to see the military play a larger role in civil society.


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. 

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. 

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.

military & education discussion list

Watch our new 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? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

Watch the film and see more info here

relevant on YouTube

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.

other news on military in schools

27/06/2014 Ekklesia

“The stirring music, smart uniforms and synchronised marching that characterise Armed Forces Day are a glossy front behind which sits a deliberate strategy to manipulate the public,”

27/06/2014 British Forces News

BFBS ForcesWatch film

Earlier this week the Government pledged £1 million to expanding cadet forces in state secondary schools. But that Is being challenged by a new film called Engage. It has been commissioned by Forces Watch, a group which challenges the ethics of military recruitment.

27/06/2014 The Guardian

Giles Fraser asks if the commitment for 100 new cadet force units in state schools by 2015 the best way to mark the start of the first world war?

Bursary scheme will allocate money paid in fines by British banks caught up in the Libor rate-fixing scandal to state schools to help them offer thousands more children the chance to join military cadet forces.

THhe Rector of a leading fee-paying school in Edinburgh has suspended four pupils and barred four others from an army cadet force after members were allegedly beaten by fellow students.

25/01/2014 Morning Star

Michael Gove's scheme to train ex-squaddies as teachers was labelled an "expensive flop" yesterday after it was revealed the Tory Education Secretary mustered just 132 recruits.

05/01/2014 The Telegraph

Former soldiers without degrees will be fast-tracked into teaching and more cadet force units will be established as part of a dramatic expansion of a “military-style” ethos in English state schools

19/11/2013 Telegraph

Britain’s cadet force could be expanded to encourage more youngsters to join the Armed Forces, a defence minister has suggested.

28/10/2013 Wales Online

Forces Watch report calls for the minimum age of recruitment to be raised to 18 to avoid exposing the youngest soldiers to the most trauma

20/08/2013 Emily Clark, Newcastle Free Press

Yet another set of outdated, ill-conceived and unpopular plans from the Education Minister, but this time there’s guns.

07/06/2013 BBC online

Former armed forces personnel without degrees will be fast-tracked into teaching in England under a new government programme.

17/01/2013 Independent

Schools should also recruit more ex-armed service personnel, urges Labour