ForcesWatch comment

Only ‘Show and Tell’? Latest news on Scottish Parliament Petition
04/12/2017

ForcesWatch comment

Members of the Scottish Parliament have decided they need to hear more from ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland before making decisions about our petition calling for greater guidance and scrutiny around military visits to schools.

After taking oral evidence from the armed forces and the MoD in person on 9 Nov 2017, Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee agreed that we should be allowed to respond before MSPs consider further steps.

The Committee – in a session on the petition lasting over an hour – quizzed four senior military officers, one from each Service and the MoD.

The public was not allowed to see witnesses’ faces after Parliament accepted a plea concerning personal safety fears (despite some of those giving statements walking to Holyrood in full uniform).

There was also a shake-up in Committee membership – with Michelle Ballantyne, who won a by-election for the Conservatives earlier in the year, replacing party colleague Maurice Corry.

Another Conservative MSP – Edward Mountain – was also present to ask questions. MSPs are allowed to attend any Committee meeting in which they have an interest, but may not take part in decision making.

At no point did any witness giving evidence from the armed forces say that the proposed modest changes suggested in the petition would have a negative or disproportionate effect to the military in terms of recruitment or any anything else.

A number of key points emerged from the session.

Brigadier Paul Buttery, the MoD’s Head of Training, Education, Skills, Recruiting and Resettlement, said the forces only visit schools when invited by the head teacher.

Brigadier Buttery explained that the data they provided the committee, which covers rounghly a 15 month period, shows just over 1,000 school visits in 2016. The Army attended 70 schools three times or more, while the Navy attended 14 and the RAF just 12.

Overall, 98 schools were visited twice by two different services. 22 were attended by the Army, Navy and the RAF. See below for our analysis of the data.

 However, pressed by the Labour MSP and Committee Convenor, Johann Lamont, witnesses admitted that in fact the Services write to all schools in Scotland each year.

Therefore it was not a case of the military waiting to be asked into schools, but rather they undertake an active strategy on visits. Also once a relationship is established visits tend to be repeated year-on-year.

RAF Wing Commander, Ian Garnett, said the Air Force would talk about “apprentice opportunities” while on school visits.

He also admitted that primary schools were visited by the RAF, but portrayed this as being nothing more than “show and tell” and “What do daddy and mummy do at work?”. For the Navy Commander Billy Adams admitted that on request there were visits to primary schools in Scotland.

Similarly Major Deborah Scott – a senior Army recruiter – talked about people going into schools being "double hatted". She admitted that career specialists do visit primary schools.

The new Tory MSP, Michelle Ballantyne, declared to the Committee that she had worked as a military officer in schools before describing the Cadets as “part of the school system.”

Brian Whittle, the other Conservative MSP on the Committee, wanted to know where people joined from - were they Cadets and had they been spoken to in schools? The witnesses were unable to give any figures on this at the time.

In response to a question from Angus MacDonald MSP, Wing Commander Garnett said people joined for many reasons - "they saw the Armed Forces Day Parade", "saw a jet overhead", "an advert on TV".

There’s was significant media interest in the proceedings, from Scottish TV, the Aberdeen Evening Express and the Forces Network.

No date has been set for the next hearing but we will keep you up to date here.


Our new briefing using data provided by the MoD shows that:

  • 770 visits were made by the armed forces to schools in Scotland between April 16 and March 17, including a small number to primary schools and special schools.
  • The Army made 58% of all visits.
  • 68% of state secondary schools are visited in one year, some many times.
  • Three-quarters (75.5%) of visits are promoting a career in the armed forces.
  • State schools are visited far more than independent schools, even taking into account that they are far larger in number.

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