The British Armed Forces need to stop targeting and recruiting children

The freelance journalist Lee Williams gives an overview of the UK military’s youth engagement, and presents a strong ethical case for why the armed forces should stop recruiting children.

Soldiers aged between 16 and 18 are twice as likely to die on the battlefield once they’re adults, and have a much higher suicide rate than the average for their age

The UK is one of only 19 countries in the world that still recruits 16-year-olds into its armed forces. The others include North Korea and Iran. What’s more, British teenagers – otherwise deemed too young to drive a car, drink alcohol or marry – are twice as likely to be killed as personnel recruited over the age of 18. Mental illness is also more prevalent in these recruits, with a suicide rate 82 per cent higher than civilians of the same age.

These uncomfortable facts clearly don’t fit in with the shiny nature of Armed Forces Day, which was celebrated this Saturday with parades, fly pasts, parachute displays, and speeches by David Cameron.

If only the truth was palatable enough to be celebrated. Numerous organisations including Amnesty International, the National Union of Teachers, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, have challenged the Government’s policy of recruiting what many regard as child soldiers.… Read more

Armed forces not required to offer soldiers aged 16-17 the same standard of education that is required in civilian life

Compulsory education for 16-17s: research reveals that the armed forces are not required to give child soldiers the same minimum standard as civilian institutions. The minimum attainment requirement of the Army (which has the vast majority of children in the armed forces) is shown to be very low.

‘[The] response from the Department for Education to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the armed forces are exempt from legislation governing the continuing participation of young people in education. From 2015, the Education and Skills Act commits civilians aged 16 and 17 in full-time employment to study for 280 Guided Learning Hours per year towards accredited qualifications. The effect of the armed forces’ exemption is that they are not bound by any legal minimum standard, so are not required to offer young soldiers the same standard of education that is required in civilian life.

This is despite frequent claims by the army, navy and air force that their educational provision is of benefit to young people.

In fact, the army’s youngest trainees, aged 16, are offered only low-grade Functional Skills in English, maths and ICT. This type of qualification has been strongly criticised by education experts, is not designed to be stand-alone qualifications, is not at all comparable with GCSEs in the same subjects, and is rarely recognised by employers. In… Read more

Military ethos in schools is not character education but recruitment propaganda, claim Mark Thomas and Clare Short

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In a new film from the Quakers, comedian Mark Thomas and former MP Clare Short claim the Government is misusing the education system to encourage support for its wars and to promote careers in the armed forces.

The Unseen March was filmed by The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), in response to growing concerns about the Government’s promotion of the armed forces and its rhetoric around British values and character.

Quakers hope the film will provoke an open, public debate about the role of the armed forces in education and closer examination of what we really mean by expecting schools to teach character and British values.

In the film, Ben Griffin – a former paratrooper and founder of Veterans for Peace – believes the military is selling the idea of military ethos in order to gain access to schools.

He claims that ‘military ethos’ is actually about instilling obedience without question, developing a gang mentality and removing the innate psychological barrier to killing.

Citizenship Foundation founding director Don Rowe is ‘shocked’. ‘Education is about teaching young people how to think,’ he says, ‘how to be rational, how to look at evidence, how to weigh up different points of view’. A recent armed forces’ teaching pack is, he claims, ‘nothing more than a promotional booklet’.… Read more

British Veterans Made Some Dark Films to Protest the UK Army’s Recruitment of 16-Year-Olds

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An article on the context of the striking new short film from Veterans for Peace UK, Action Man: Battlefield Casualties , which presents a new range of war-traumatised action men.

‘Daniel Campbell wakes up drenched in sweat. Every muscle in his body is tense. The dead child, the one he couldn’t save, is back. He creeps to the bathroom. The child is waiting for him. Its bloodied face stares at him accusingly from inside the mirror. He splashes cold water on his forehead and returns wearily to bed.

Daniel Campbell was a child soldier in the British Army. “I wanted to see the world and I wanted to help people,” he says, remembering the day he stepped, aged 16, into Portsmouth’s recruitment centre. And see the world he did: left with severe PTSD after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army abandoned him as if he were a broken toy.

The basic brutality that underpins the work of the British Armed Forces is not something that recruiters tend to dwell on when pitching to kids. So a group of former soldiers, Veterans For Peace UK, have taken it upon themselves to highlight the harsh realities of life and death in, and after, the army.… Read more

Welsh Gov told to review the way British military recruits in Welsh schools

The Welsh Government has been told to review of the way the British Armed Forces are allowed to recruit in Welsh schools.

A Welsh Assembly report raises concerns about the high level of visits made to Welsh secondary schools when compared to other parts of the UK.

It also questions whether the regular visits are providing pupils with a fair and balanced view of military life.

An investigation was carried out in response to a Welsh Assembly petition from a group called, Cymdeithas y Cymod (Fellowship of Reconciliation).

The petition highlighted the fact that Britain is the only state within NATO or the European Union to allow the military into schools.

Britain is also alone within the Europe in recruiting 16-year-olds into the armed forces.

The petition states:

“We call on the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to recommend that the armed forces should not go into schools to recruit.”

The Petitions Committee, the cross-party team of AMs which compiled the report, received written evidence from campaign group, Forces Watch.

Their research showed a disproportionately high number of visits to Wales when compared to other parts of the UK.

They said that during 2010-11 and 2011-12 the army had visited 163 (74 percent) of state secondary schools in Wales.… Read more

War veterans call for rethink on recruitment of 16-year-olds

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Former professionals condemn recruitment of teenagers by ‘pushing the notion of a noble military career to children’.

A group of British war veterans will launch a campaign this week against enlisting 16-year-olds into the military.

Britain is the only state in Europe or Nato that still enlists minors, a policy criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights and other groups including Child Soldiers International and British Quakers. The organisation Veterans For Peace (VFP) is demanding change, but the MoD says it depends on 16-year-olds for a quarter of the intake needed to sustain UK forces.

After a six-month trial, 16-year-olds are locked in to the forces until they reach 22, meaning a life-changing decision is made at a brutally young age, says VFP co-ordinator Ben Griffin, 37, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan in the SAS and the Parachute Regiment. He said his experiences gave him an “obligation” to tell teenagers the truth.

There is provision for “unhappy juniors” to be discharged at the discretion of their commanding officer but no guarantee it will happen.

“There’s no clear, uniformed enemy any more,” he said. “Basically,in war, you’re fighting a civilian population: you’re breaking down doors in the middle of the night.

Read more

Critical scrutiny of military ethos initiatives continues

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An example of how critical scrutiny of the Military Ethos in Schools programme is being sustained from people outside of ForcesWatch, comes from an Institute of Education conference in February 2015, where Victoria Basham, senior lecturer in Politics at Exeter University, gave a critical overview of the Department for Education’s Military Ethos in Schools programme.

Victoria made several key points:

* there is very little evidence as to why a ‘military ethos’ is good for UK schoolchildren

* the military have traditionally stated their need to be different from civilians, given their unique role of using armed force. Is it convincing that they can now fit into the education system in an acceptable way?

* there is a long list of workers in other organisations that exemplify and imbue values of hard work, teamwork, leadership, etc. Moreover, other values such as creativity, and questioning/critical thinking are being overlooked by the military ethos approach, which means that it is reinforcing a two-tier education system (though it is worth noting that the military ethos alternative provision organisation Commando Joe’s, who work with children as young as five, have the motto ‘No Child Left Behind’, and have recently stated their intention to work with all students – not just the most disadvantaged)

* any students that join the armed forces as a result of military ethos initiatives will almost definitely join as ‘other ranks’, with higher risks associated than commissioned officers

In the questions and discussion that followed Victoria’s talk, one teacher, a Navy reservist, said that they were sceptical of the Troops to Teachers scheme, given the different approaches to discipline in the military and schools.… Read more

The Army offer ‘Soldiers to Schools’ as First World War Centenary ‘support’

In addition to placing a soldier on each school coach visiting the First World War battlefields (as part of the government’s flagship  Centenary initiative to have at least two students from every school in the country visit them), the Army have launched their own First World War teaching resources for schools, and are offering to send soldiers to schools to ‘support teaching activities’.

Their resources for schools overlook the recruitment and propaganda that the military carried out in schools during the war. They also overlook the fact that the UK had around ¼ million boy soldiers,  roughly 120,000 of who were killed or injured.

The Army deny that their ‘Soldiers to Schools’ scheme is recruitment, despite it having a major focus on the Army today, and despite the well-documented strong recruitment agenda behind their schools engagement in general.… Read more

MoD claims request for sensitive student data to aid Army recruitment an “error”

‘The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been blocked from obtaining highly sensitive personal data about school and college students, which had ostensibly been sought in order to help “target its messaging” around military careers…’

‘MoD requests sensitive pupil data…by mistake’

On 5 June 2015 Schools Week reported:

‘The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been blocked from obtaining highly sensitive personal data about school and college students, which had ostensibly been sought in order to help “target its messaging” around military careers.

A request to access the National Pupil Database (NPD) – which includes children’s addresses, absence figures and parental occupation – was made on behalf of the MoD last year. A spokesman for the government department told Schools Week this was an “error” made by an individual and not in line with its policy.

But ForcesWatch, a campaign group scrutinising army recruitment policies, said the fact the request was denied showed “how inappropriate the MoD’s intended use of the data was”.

The news came to light after the Department for Education (DfE) released details of all requests to access the NPD as part of its transparency process. Only nine out of more than 460 applications since 2012 have been refused.… Read more

Arms companies are making money by taking over UK schools

Europe’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, has applied to sponsor the failing Furness Academy. The reason is profit.

Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade in Open Democracy

Corporations have already established a growing foothold in many UK schools, but the idea of Europe’s biggest arms company running a school still seems like something out of an Orwellian nightmare.

However, it may be about to happen in Barrow, Cumbria, where BAE Systems is on the verge of taking over the faltering Furness Academy. The proposal is currently going through due diligence before being opened to a consultation with stakeholders, parents and staff, where it is expected to be supported. If it is agreed, BAE will become the school’s sole sponsor later this year. They will also take responsibility for the ‘strategic direction’ of the school.

Education isn’t just about grades, it’s also about promoting values, informing perspectives and expanding minds. Could a weapons manufacturer ever act in the best interests of school children? How can a company that profits from international hostility ever be trusted to teach about areas like conflict resolution or the human cost of war?

BAE has a shameful, inglorious history of corruption and deals with dictators. It has been the subject of investigations across a number of countries and was fined $400 million in the US for bribery.… Read more