ForcesWatch comment


Following our recent piece on the news story that the Ministry of Defence requested access (which the Department for Education rejected) to the database of sensitive data of school students in England, to help the Army better target its recruitment practice, it has emerged that the Army - in collaboration with Royal Holloway College and the mobile phone app specialists DotNet - was specifically seeking to match individuals’ data with specific Army jobs, with a mobile phone app an apparent intended output.

Data protection expert Tim Turner says this use of the data would have breached data protection laws: “They would need consent which they don’t have … and they would need to tell the young people that the data was being shared, which they haven’t done.”

After having their request rejected, the Army employee behind the request, from their 'information superiority branch' based at the Army's headquarters in Andover, emailed the DfE requesting information about the appeals process; it’s unclear whether a formal appeal has been submitted.

All this undermines the two claims by the MoD quoted in the original news coverage of the story: firstly, that they aren’t targeting individuals for recruitment, and secondly that the request was an error that had been “halted”. The MoD have refused to comment.

We know that the armed forces visit schools for recruitment purposes so they can avoid the influence of parents and other ‘gatekeepers.’ This would have allowed them to do that more effectively.


Letter to The Independent (see all signatories below)

Towns and cities across the UK will today (27 June) be “celebrating” Armed Forces Day. Many councils hold these events as signatories to the Armed Forces Community Covenant; almost every local authority has pledged support to the armed forces in perpetuity, and hundreds of businesses, charities and schools have signed the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.

Many of today’s events are packaged as “family fun”, with military vehicles and weaponry to entice young people, and cadet and armed forces careers marketing to recruit them. War is not family entertainment.

The school assembly packs on offer from the Ministry of Defence display a breath-taking economy with the truth about the purpose and consequences of military action.

Rather than institutionalising public support for the armed forces we should stop selling war to children through sanitised celebration of the military and the promotion of “military ethos” in schools. It is unacceptable for the UK to be the only country in the EU to still recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces, defying the growing international consensus against child recruitment.

As one of the thousands of signatories of our petition to change the law said: “Children should be protected from conflict, not incorporated in it.”

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi UK
Emma Sangster, ForcesWatch
Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK
Bruce Kent, Abolition of War
Matt Jeziorski, Peace Education Network
Claire Poyner, Network for Peace 
Philip Austin, Northern Friends Peace Board 
Brian Larkin, Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

Sign the petition here


ForcesWatch comment

A year ago we wrote how Armed Forces Day symbolises the creep of militarism into our civil institutions. Far from being merely a reflection of public respect, this creep is the result of a concerted effort, which can be tracked through policy initiatives and is fuelled by concern that the military are losing control of the public narrative around defence. Armed Forces Day itself comes out of the Government report of 2008, National Recognition of our Armed Forces, which sets out to establish a host of 'countervailing measures' to shore up support for the forces eroded by recent conflicts.

We noted how these public displays, which are ostensibly about supporting 'the men and women who make up the Armed Forces', (including Camo DayReserves Day and the Poppy Appeal), act to market the military as an institution and to build a positive and uncritical narrative around it and support its recruitment needs.

A year, and another Armed Forces Day, later, we look here at how militarism continues to creep into schools and colleges and how recent developments further embed military approaches and interests within the education system.

Disrupting the message at North Wales Armed Forces Day, 20 June 2015. Photo: Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum


The Department for Education has given out its £3.5 million ‘Character Awards’ and its £3.5 million Character Education grants, both championed by Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan, to 27 schools and youth organisations in England, and 14 youth projects, respectively.  Despite the DfE's heralding of 'military ethos' as an  excellent means of developing character, none of those awarded mention military-style activities in their descriptions (see here and here) and the DfE says it ‘does not hold the information’ on whether any of the Character Award projects are military ethos-oriented.

Instead, the projects include Personal Social Health & Citizenship Education, Citizenship, community and charity volunteering, outdoor activities without any military aspect, and empathy-building activities. They were selected by a panel of education and youth work experts. Particularly striking is the £500,000 scheme to bring professional rugby players into schools ‘to instil character and resilience in disaffected children’. Comments from Nicky Morgan and Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby Mark McCafferty on the values that rugby players can imbue are very reminiscent of the rhetoric around the 'military ethos in schools' programme.

All this suggests that non-military approaches to developing ‘character’ can be at least as effective as military approaches. Indeed, Birmingham University’s Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues 2015 report Building Character through Youth Social Action provides  a wealth of evidence of the efficacy of non-military ethos initiatives in developing important skills in young people. The providers interviewed for the study work with over one million young people; the Army, Air, Sea, or Combined Cadets were not among them, though the Prince’s Trust (which since 2013 has been a provider of the DfE-funded ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’ for ‘disengaged’ students), Youth United (whose network of ten youth organisations includes the Army, Sea, and Air Cadets, and which is also one of the Character Education grant receipients), and Prince Charles’ Step Up To Serve initiative (the government's press release photo of which features Cadets prominently) were.

The report states that the government’s own research has found 'robust evidence that young people who take part in social action initiatives develop some of the most critical skills for employment and adulthood in the process', including empathy, problem-solving, grit and resilience, cooperation, and a sense of community.

Emphasising that it is social action which is vital in building character, the report notes: 'This is well recognised in the education sector, with most young people getting involved in social action through school or college...61% of interviewees said that young people already have a number of virtues before taking part in social action. For some, this is because certain virtues are innate; for others, it is because they have learnt them in different ways... Just under half of interviewees stated that some virtues can be ‘caught’ by-products...They said that this happens most often through exposing young people to opportunities, which providers create, in which they can discover and practise those virtues, but also includes experiential learning...peer-to-peer learning, and role-modelling...Just three interviewees (13%) said they believe that virtues can be taught, such as through guidance, formal coaching or training programmes.’ There is no suggestion that any particular type of facilitator or activity is particularly well-placed to achieve this, in contrast to the assertions behind military ethos initiatives.


ForcesWatch comment

Looking back on being part of a school-based cadet unit, the author reflects that, despite the fun and experience to be gained, the benefits could be achieved with non-military activities which would not present a dangerous and risk-laden career as an enjoyable and exciting activity or expose young people to an environment where bullying and hazing are normalised.

What follows is an autobiographical account of my experiences as an Army Cadet within the Combined Cadet Forces (CCF). As such, it serves as a snapshot of the organisation at a particular time and place, and should not be regarded as a definitive record as to how the CCF operates as a whole. Whilst each detachment of the CCF adheres to the same syllabus and ethos, the method by which this is implemented may vary with the leadership, members and social culture of that detachment. I have provided this disclaimer purely because aspects of my testimony may seem controversial, and it would be unfair to discredit an entire organisation on the basis of my personal memories alone.

The CCF is a Ministry of Defence (MoD) sponsored youth organisation predominantly found within the United Kingdom’s independent schools.i Divided into three branches (Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy). Members can join from the age of thirteen until they leave school at eighteen. They wear military fatigues, and are provided with military training once a week, on occasional night-time exercises, and on biannual week-long camps located at military barracks.ii It is designed to be fun, and indeed is fun, as evidenced by this author staying a cadet for the maximum five years before he left school turned eighteen. The CCF was an integral component of every-day school life. Every Thursday our uniform of blazer and tie was replaced with brassard and khaki, and school would finish quarter of an hour early to enable us to file onto the parade square. Even the school’s infrastructure was set up to facilitate our military education. An armoury, replete with ammunition and weapons, was conveniently located in the English Department, with a nearby mess for the teachers who volunteered as officers.iii This ensured that a military ethos was ever present throughout our education, even when we were not practising as Cadets.

Recruitment and the CCF

Whilst the CCF promotes self-reliance, leadership and other positive attributes within its members, it is primarily designed to ‘stimulate an interest' in the armed forces and to encourage and prepare those with an interest in becoming officers within the regular or reserve forces to enlist.iv As stated in an interim copy of the MoD’s Youth Engagement Review, ‘Cadet and [MoD] youth development experiences...can both enhance a young person’s desire to join the Service and make him/her better prepared to enter training...All the Services are particularly keen not to overtly link cadets and recruiting and this must continue in the public eye.’v In short, the CCF is designed to enable young men and women to regard the armed forces as a viable career, and one that they have already been primed for success.

This pre-emptive channelling occurred in a variety of ways. Talks were often delivered by current or former officers, who reiterated certain myths about an armed forces career, and largely glossed over the fact that ultimately soldiers exist to be called upon by their government to kill other humans for political reasons. The armed forces were presented to us as a great adventure, where we would undertake exciting new experiences in exotic locations far away, making friends for life along the way. Certainly, there is some truth to this depiction, however, it may also mislead impressionable young people into thinking that the armed forces is safer and more enthralling than it actually is. This illusion would likely be shattered if these hypothetical new recruits were mobilised for war. An even more effective recruitment tactic, however, were the trips to the various regiments, where we were seduced by the pomp, silver and ceremony of mess life as an officer, and the deadly power and technology of the weapons, equipment and hardware used by the British armed forces. A personal highlight was being driven in a challenger tank by the Royal Artillery. Looking back, the CCF, and the resources invested in our training were, as the MoD state themselves, a ‘powerful tool for facilitating recruitment’.vi Indeed, 20% of officers and 2% of non-officers in 2014 are former members of the CCF and 27% of officers and 23% of non-officers are former members of community-based cadet units.vii This reflects the traditional predominance of school-based cadets in independent schools which are more likely to produce officers rather than 'other ranks'.