Level and distribution of armed forces visits to schools in Scotland

This page contains evidence submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in 2016. See more about the Scottish petition calling for regulation of armed forces visits to schools, and other pages of evidence.


The available data shows that the armed forces make a disproportionate number of visits to schools and colleges in Scotland compared to England, but also that the visits within Scotland are unevenly distributed, both by area, type of school, and armed force, with some areas and schools receiving a far greater proportion and/or frequency of visits. Some children in any given school will be more vulnerable to the armed forces' marketing messages. For many reasons, the armed forces does not guarantee social mobility. The armed forces also make far more visits to schools in Scotland than the emergency services, despite claims to the contrary.

Return to the main petition page


Scottish schools visited disproportionately compared to schools in England

Overall secondary school and college visits figures for each country in the UK between 2011-2012 show that visits in Scotland represent 11.2% of the UK total. However, Scotland's population only accounts for 8.4% of the UK population, indicating that proportionately more visits are made to Scottish schools.

State schools visited more than private schools

Between 2010-12, 83% of all state secondary schools in Scotland (303 schools out of a total of 367) were visited by the armed forces at least once. In contrast, only 50% of the 56 private secondary schools in the same two-year period. In addition, all the Army visits were made to state schools; they made no visits to indepedent schools.

Although this briefing focuses on secondary schools, it is worth noting that further education and sixth-form colleges were in general visited a greater number of times per institution than secondary schools. 27 colleges were visited between 2010-12, an average of eight times each. Telford College and Jewel & Esk College in Edinburgh, and Dundee College, were each visited 20 times or more.

Variation between the three armed forces

In the academic years 2010-12, 42% of visits to state secondary schools in Scotland were made by the Army, 31% by the Navy and 27% by the Royal Air Force. As mentioned, the Army made no visits to independent schools – only state schools.

The three armed forces each visited a higher proportion of schools in some areas than in others. The Army visited over 95% of schools in Dumfries & Galloway, Edinburgh, Perth & Kinross, Scottish Borders, Midlothian, and West Lothian. The Navy visited over 95% of schools in Aberdeenshire, Angus and Stirling, and the RAF visited over 95% of schools in Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, Falkirk, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and Stirling.

The Army made an average of 1.7 visits to each secondary state school it visited, with the highest averages in Angus, Edinburgh, Dumfries & Galloway, Perth & Kinross, West Lothian, and Fife, where they visited schools an average of two to three times a year. The Navy made an average of 1.2 visit to each state secondary school, with the highest averages for schools in North Ayrshire, Moray and East Renfrewshire. The RAF made an average of 1.1 visits to each school, with the highest averages for schools in South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Stirling, North Ayrshire and Clackmannanshire.

The Army made most of the visits to the two individual state secondary schools with the highest number of visits during the two-year period – Arbroath Academy and Dunfermline High School, which each received 31 visits.

Schools in some areas visited significantly more

The available data does show that the armed forces have visited schools in some areas of Scotland significantly more than others. Between 2010-12, half of the 32 Scottish council areas had armed forces visits to all or almost all of their state secondary schools. Schools in Edinburgh, Fife, North Lanarkshire, Angus, Dumfries & Galloway, and Perth & Kinross received the highest number of visits, and 31 schools were visited 10 times or more (six were visited over 20 times).

However, comparison with the percentage of students eligible for free school meals in 2012, and with the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, suggest that there is not a straightforward link between deprivation indicators for individual schools and number of visits. While over half of schools which received 10 or more visits in two years (18) were either in or adjacent to the 30% most deprived areas in Scotland, 10 of these schools were in the 30% of least deprived areas and not adjacent to other areas of deprivation.

This variation may be due in part to an attempt by the armed forces to cover as broad a range of schools as possible, as they seek support from all young people, and their diversity of jobs requires them to recruit students from a variety of backgrounds, but also in part to where they can have the most impact. As RAF Air Vice-Marshall Simon Bryant told the Defence Committee in 2008: “we are bound by how far we can spread our wings and where we get the best returns...we have done a significant amount of work on this to see where we get the best effect. We have found that by concentrating where there is already a significant footprint and therefore air power is better understood by the people there at least at a subliminal level.”

The location of armed forces careers offices also likely plays a part. In general, between 2010-12 the majority of these were located in the east and central areas of Scotland, which are also the most urban parts of the country. A similar geographical pattern is traced by both the areas with the highest average number of visits per school, and the individual schools with the highest number of visits.

A further factor is the relationship that the armed forces have built up with individual schools. The data suggests that the armed forces often repeat visits to a school on an annual basis, developing a long-term relationship with the school. Some schools will have community or historical links with one or more of the armed services, and their leadership will be very receptive to the visits. In contrast, some schools quietly decide not to have visits from the armed forces.

Nonetheless, there are concerns that the armed forces may attempt to target students from more disadvantaged backgrounds as part of their schools engagement in Scotland, despite denials of this from the armed forces.

Education Scotland said in 2015 that the MoD had, ‘made a request for school deprivation data’ for Scotland, to which Education Scotland responded with a link to the Scottish Indices of Multiple Deprivation, which are available online. (Source: response to FOI request, 25 November 2015. Available from the petitioners on request). This came after it emerged that the Army had attempted to obtain a database of sensitive student information for England, in order to better-target its recruitment. And in 2013, the Army stated that its schools careers advice, ‘is often more tailored and directed to those at risk of disengaging with education or work, or those who struggle academically'.

Ultimately, further research is needed to establish whether armed forces visits in Scotland occur more frequently in schools whose students experience high levels of disadvantage, as there may be pockets of deprivation in more prosperous areas, and vice-versa, which prevent less specific analyses from making firm conclusions. Indeed, in 2015 the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee noted that, ‘There does seem to be evidence that the armed forces disproportionately visit schools in areas of relatively high deprivation’, and their recommendation that, ‘the Welsh Government considers whether further research is needed into the reasons for the apparently disproportionate number of visits to schools in areas of relatively high deprivation’, was partially accepted.

Social mobility and targeting disadvantaged young people

These risks and vulnerabilities are not unique to children from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds, although such children can face them disproportionately. Military marketing strategies are designed to appeal to decision-making biases to which all adolescents are prone, but those from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be prone to these biases and are more likely to feel that their options are limited (see more in the Medact). Although there is not a straightforward link between armed forces visits and deprivation indicators in Scotland (given geographical and historical factors) it is clear that within each school it is the young people facing greater disadvantage who are most susceptible to marketing messages.

The armed forces does not guarantee social mobility. While the armed forces offers opportunities to young people, a large proportion of early enlistees decide to drop out of training (one-third). Their options are then either re-joining the education system or finding alternative employment without having acquired basic qualifications. Their early enlistment therefore brought their full-time education to an end only to subject them to a risk of long-term unemployment. Early enlistees who do complete their training are less likely than adult recruits to be promoted through the ranks. When they leave the army they will compete for jobs with their civilian peers who remained in full-time education post-16. Research by the British Legion has found that the unemployment rate among working-age veterans is approximately twice the civilian rate; a lack of transferable, accredited qualifications acquired in service is a common complaint.

Data suggests that the armed forces make visits to special schools (for pupils with learning difficulties or pupil referral units) and primary schools. The army has stated that it only engages with students in academic year 9 (Scottish S3). We consider that all parts of the armed forces should commit to not providing career or curriculum information for pupils in younger year groups and additionally stop visiting schools for children with additional needs who may also be particularly vulnerable to sophisticated marketing messages.

Armed forces make far more visits than the emergency services

Lastly, the frequent claims by the armed forces and MoD that, 'Similar contributions to schools are made by the police, fire, ambulance and other emergency services', are contradicted by the available data.

Freedom of Information requests to the emergency services in Scotland suggest that few, if any, have the level of engagement with schools and colleges that is maintained by the armed forces. The Scottish Ambulance Service state that visits to schools are not part of their core service (with the exception of emergency-related training for teachers) and any visits are organised by staff on a purely voluntary basis. Police Scotland recorded around 60 educational visits to schools and colleges for the academic year 2012-2013. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service do often visit schools for presentations and workshops, but these visits mainly relate to fire safety; only a small proportion are to promote a career in the fire service.

In addition, the risks, legal restrictions and ethical dilemmas faced in the emergency services are not comparable; they are not controversial in the same way as the armed forces. As the Army acknowledged in 1996: ‘Other professions, such as the police and fire service, also face death and injury, often more frequently than do members of the Army, but not on the same potential scale, or with the same inherent levels of lethal danger; none face the potentially devastating experience of deliberately taking life as a normal part of their roles.’

In 2015 the Welsh Government accepted the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee recommendation of consideration of increasing the range of employers visiting schools in Wales.

Return to the main petition page