The recruitment agenda behind 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.


Armed forces visits to schools have a recruitment purpose yet, the MoD state that the armed forces do not recruit in schools. This is based on a definition of recruitment as the act of signing up or making a legal commitment. However, 'youth engagement' in schools is a key component of fulfilling defence recruitment needs; this is evidenced by MoD planning documents.

A more common understanding of recruitment would be the process of marketing an armed forces career, engaging individuals and conducting assessments and interviews, leading towards the final act of signing the enlistment papers. All but the last of these stages take place within the education system.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends raising the age of recruitment to 18 and that ‘military recruiters access to schools be strictly limited.’ The report on UK child recruitment by public health charity Medact Medact notes how the vulnerabilities of adolescents are exploited by military marketing techniques. Armed forces activities in schools provide much of the pre-recruitment engagement required to attract young recruits.

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.

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Evidence of the recruitment agenda behind armed forces visits to schools in Scotland

The claims by the MoD and armed forces that that the armed forces never recruit in schools in Scotland (or elsewhere in the UK) are disingenuous, as the following evidence demonstrates:

* The MoD made it clear in 2011 that recruitment is one of the two main objectives of its ‘youth engagement’ programme (of which visits to schools comprise a significant part): activities 'should have two clear Defence outcomes: An awareness of the Armed Forces' role in the world and the quality of its work and people, in order to ensure the continued support of the population; and recruitment of the young men and women that are key to future sustainment and success.' (our emphasis)

* The MoD’s 2007 document 'Engagement with UK Schools' states that, 'Our overall rationale for engaging with schools is to encourage good citizenship, provide an environment which raises awareness of the MOD and Armed Forces among young people, provide positive information to influence future opinion formers, and to enable recruiters to access the school environments...In gross numerical terms the main driver is recruitment...There are many other reasons given for visits but many of these have implicit careers links and any positive image created by an engagement is likely to have a positive effect in the recruiting environment.' (our emphasis)

* The 2005 ‘Strategy for Delivery of MoD Youth Initiatives’ states that schools engagement, ‘offers opportunities to raise public awareness and empathy with the Armed Forces and finally, it is a further, powerful tool for facilitating recruitment especially if the skills developed through curricular activities have a direct bearing on military requirements’ (contact ForcesWatch for a copy of the document)

* The House of Commons Defence Select Committee's 2008 report on ‘Recruitment and Retention’ made clear both that the military refer to personnel going into schools as 'recruiters', and that they and the Defence Committee have sought to establish a more systematic approach to engaging with school pupils for the purpose of recruiting. The UK Government's response to the report notes, under the heading 'Recruiting and Schools', that, 'The Ministry of Defence agrees that recruitment activity in schools can be better co-ordinated…Our Recruiting initiatives include...Services Presentation Teams' attendance in schools and at careers fairs'.

* Capita, the private company that since 2012 has conducted recruitment for the Army, states that its Outreach team, ‘promotes Army Careers by going to schools, fairs and events to engage with potential Army recruits'. Capita’s Army recruitment contract states, under ‘Education’: ‘the Service Provider shall define an Education Strategy to raise awareness and understanding of Army careers among young people and gatekeepers, thus increasing the number of young people actively considering an Army career and creating a supportive environment in which that consideration can flourish...the Service Provider shall use education as a source of advocacy for an Army career, using existing structures and trusted sources, such as teachers and IAG [Information Advice and Guidance] advisers, to impart information to young people and their parents…engagement activities shall include Careers Adviser (CA) and Senior Career Adviser (SCA) visits to careers advisers in educational establishments, presentations to students and presentations at careers fairs’. (Source: Army response to FOI request, 3 July 2015. Available from ForcesWatch on request) In 2015, the MoD acknowledged that Army visits to schools are overseen by ‘Recruiting Offices’.

* The UK Government’s 2008 report to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child on the implementation of the ‘Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict’, states that, 'Army recruiting initiatives include presentations in schools by Army careers advisers (ACA), a variety of Army youth team and Army recruiting team activities, attachments and visits to units, school fairs, Combined Cadet Force (CCF), advertising and marketing initiatives, membership of the Army’s Camouflage Club'. Interestingly, the Navy and RAF’s school activity is described as advertising and careers advice, rather than recruitment.

* In 2007, the then-head of Army recruitment claimed that, “We don't do primary schools... It would be improper to hard-sell a military career at that point. We prefer outreach”. This implies that secondary school visits do involve a ‘hard sell’.

* Explicitly careers-oriented activities account for a significant proportion of armed forces visits to schools in Scotland. Careers-related activities accounted for 35% of the 1783 visits to secondary schools and colleges between 2010-12. Curriculum-related visits (workshops, Army in Education activities and involvement in specific subjects such as citizenship) accounted for 20% of all visits. Activities that focus on the development of the students such as team building, leadership, interview techniques, and exercise and fitness accounted for 42% of all visits.  The curriculum activities use the armed forces as the subject matter and the development activities are focused on skills that are needed for armed forces employment. The activities provide the armed forces with further promotional opportunities: for example, the Army's Personal Development Activity aims 'to develop leadership, teamwork, confidence, and communication skills in them – whilst giving them the opportunity to speak to soldiers and officers about the opportunities available in a career in the Army.'

* The Scotsman newspaper quoted an Army spokesperson in 2006 admitting that the Army does visit schools in Scotland to recruit.

Deconstructing the military’s denials

Despite all this evidence, the MoD and armed forces maintain that armed forces visits to schools are not for recruitment purposes. They do this by employing a very narrow definition of recruitment: signing students up on the spot. For example, Mark Francois, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare, and Veterans in 2013, stated in a letter to the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee during their investigation into armed forces visits to schools in Wales that, ‘The Armed Forces do not “recruit” in schools. No pupil or school student is ever “signed up” or otherwise makes a commitment to become a recruit into the Armed Forces during the course of any school visit by our representatives.’

Some are convinced by these assertions; Aberdeenshire Council is one of several local authorities in Scotland that claims not to allow armed forces visits to its schools for recruitment purposes: ‘In our experience the forces are very sensitive about not recruiting in schools and work well with us’. (Source: FOI responses, sent to requester by email, dates ranging from 21 May 2015 to 15 January 2016. Copies available from ForcesWatch on request) Similarly, the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesperson Liz Smith claimed in January 2016 that, “The Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are very sensitive to the charge of recruitment in schools”.

However, a more widely-recognised definition of ‘recruitment’ is as a process rather than a single event. After all, getting students to formally join the armed forces in school would be very difficult, given that only a small fraction would be over 18, and thus able to sign up without their parent or guardian's signature. The MoD are seeking to distinguish their promotion of armed forces jobs in schools from recruitment by referring to it as ‘building interest in the services’, and raising ‘awareness of...the range of career opportunities across the Armed Forces’. A statement from a school in Scottish Borders demonstrates their understanding of this nuance: ‘The armed forces are not allowed to talk to pupils about recruitment and are only used to provide activities which cannot be covered in the school such as first aid training and physical activities using specialist equipment.’ (Source: email response to FOI request, 15 January 2016. Available from ForcesWatch on request)

The evidence below suggests that the military are well-aware that recruitment is usually a process, and are simply trying to minimise public unrest:

* In 2006 the MoD stated in their ‘Short Review of Engagement With Schools’ that, ‘there appeared to be a need to distance “recruiting” from other “youth and curriculum” activities since the former appeared to be alienating some teachers and preventing Defence messages reaching some students…many schools are uncomfortable about taking in personnel from MoD/Armed Forces because of their links with recruiting and unpopular activities in Iraq and Afghanistan...Thus some recruiters package their work as citizenship programmes rather than pure recruiting.’

* In 2007 the head of the Army’s recruitment strategy Colonel David Allfrey said: “Our new model [of Army recruitment] 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.”

* In 2011 the MoD defined ‘recruiting’ as, ‘the process through which recruiting and selection staffs enable a member of the public to progress from an initial enquiry to enlistment as a member of the armed forces.’

* Capita’s Army recruitment contract states: ‘the Service Provider shall begin pre-eligible activity from Year 9, when young people are making their first career-orientated choices…the Service Provider aims to attract potential recruits over the long-term’ (Source: Army email response to FOI request, 3 July 2015)

* The Army’s October-November 2015 recruitment drive in UK universities was unequivocally referred to as recruitment, despite being no different to some of the Army’s activity in schools. This is presumably because there is less public disquiet about the recruitment of university students, most of who are adults.

Visits to primary schools and special schools.

Although this briefing focuses on visits to Scottish secondary schools, it is important to note that visits are also made to Scottish primary schools, and even nurseries. Some visits to primary schools have been conducted by careers advisors who focused on armed forces jobs in their sessions. This is despite the then-head of Army recruitment claiming in 2007 that, “We don't do primary schools... It would be improper to hard-sell a military career at that point. We prefer outreach.”

The MoD stated in 2010 that, ‘The Army has no set policy on recruiters or careers advisors visiting primary schools. As part of wider community initiatives the Army has attended open days with Primary schools and will again in the future. These visits may simply highlight what a soldier looks like and what rations they eat or to talk about the role of the Army throughout history amongst other topics...The Army would not visit a Primary school to offer advice on service careers or for recruitment purposes.’ (Source: email response to FOI request. Available from ForcesWatch on request) In 2015, the MoD claimed, ‘The Army only engages with students in Academic Year 9 [S2 in Scotland] and above’. There should therefore be no more Army visits to primary schools in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, and it would be reasonable to expect the Navy and RAF to make a similar commitment.

Data suggests that the armed forces make visits to special schools (for pupils with learning difficulties or pupil referral units).

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.

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