ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch Comment

The MoD's request for sensitive data from the National Pupil Database was refused by the Department for Education. The evidence is in that the armed forces already visit schools for recruitment purposes so we ask why, if 'targeted messaging' in schools about armed forces careers is not for the 'well-being' of students, are they allowed to visit schools with their recruitment agenda at all?

Schools Week today report that the Ministry of Defence put in a request to the Department for Education for access to the National Pupil Database. The request was for the most sensitive pupil data which includes full name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, special educational needs, personalised exclusion and absence figures, as well as whether they receive free school meals and details of their academic progress.

The MoD state that the purpose of their request was: 'To determine if we can use targeted messaging to better inform young people of the career opportunities open to them in the Army (Regular and Reserve) so that their decisions about seeking a full or part time job are better informed.'

The MoD work closely with the DfE, for example, in the promotion of the cadet forces in schools and the recent pro-military 'learning resource', both of which are partly about promoting a career in the armed forces. The DfE also allows armed forces visits to schools which are, as the evidence shows, to a large extent, significantly about recruiters gaining access to young people.

However, the MoD's request for data from the National Pupil Database was rejected by the DfE because it was not for educational purposes or for the 'well-being' of students. This indicates how unacceptable direct and undisguised marketing by the armed forces to certain groups of students would be. It would also probably have made the DfE's promotion of 'military ethos in schools' more tricky to sell as purely in the best interests of young people.

The MoD are claiming that the application was 'made in error' and is 'not in line with Army policy' but, as Schools Week point out, the amount of work necessary for such as application is significant, suggesting that the 'error' was in fact an attempt they are now trying to distance themselves from. They also state that, 'The Army does not target individual pupils for recruitment purposes' yet the data requested includes identifiers such as name and address. This appears to have been an attempt to systematise the targeting of individuals that happens on an informal basis at the moment once the armed forces have gained access to a school. Already, students who show an interest are encouraged to go on an Insight course to give a (very partial) flavour of Army life.

That the Army would have used the data to, at the very least, identify particular schools to target their 'messaging' around careers, is just another indication that long-term recruitment is a major purpose for visiting schools and that the denial of this is a cynical economy with the truth. This denial relies upon a definition of recruitment as signing people up on the dotted line there and then rather than the long-term process of softening them up and gaining interest that it actually is. Ironically, if the MoD's request had been successful, this denial would have been impossible to maintain. See our briefing on The recruitment agenda behind the UK armed forces’ ‘engagement’ with students in schools and colleges for details, including MoD documents that betray their own public denial.

We now ask why, if 'targeted messaging' in schools about armed forces careers is not for the 'well-being' of students, the military with their recruitment agenda are allowed to visit schools - and run military activities such as cadets in them - at all?


ForcesWatch Comment

The DfE's recent communication to schools about the 70th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May suggests that schools 'will want to celebrate and commemorate' the event. This is the third set of learning materials promoted by the DfE within the past year around military issues. Do 'celebrations' around remembrance events inevitably drown out the more cautious messages about the price of victory?

8 May 2015 isn’t just the day after the general election. It’s also the 70th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) – the day in 1945 following the unconditional surrender of Germany to Britain, the USA, France and Russia, which marked the end of the 1939-45 war in Europe.

The Department for Education, on their page on the Times Education Supplement website, states that ‘the whole country will come together at 3pm on 8 May for a 2 minute silence to reflect on the sacrifices made, not just by those in the Armed Forces, but by civilians such as Land Girls and those in Reserved Occupations. Throughout the United Kingdom, there will be three days of celebrations ranging from a parade and a Service of Thanksgiving, to street parties around the UK and a star-studded concert in central London...Schools will also want to celebrate and commemorate the day’. 

This assertion that ‘Schools will…want to celebrate’ VE Day, not just commemorate it, along with repeated references to ‘celebrating’, is troubling. As the editor of History Today suggests, comparing responses to the First and Second World Wars, while it may be more acceptable to celebrate the end of a terrible global conflict than the beginning of one, it should be done 'with dignity and from a global perspective'.


ForcesWatch Comment

Below we provide two sample questions that you can ask candidates as well as key points and further sources of information.

You can find your candidates contact details using Let us know if you get any responses!

Do you agree that the UK should raise its age of recruitment to 18 in line with the international human rights standards established by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child?

Key points

  • The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit 16 year olds into the armed forces.
  • Parliament's Defence Committee and Joint Committee on Human Rights have both requested that the Ministry of Defence conduct a review of the age of recruitment.
  • Child rights organisations, charities and churches have all condemned the UK policy of recruiting 16 and 17 year olds.
  • A 2014 poll found that 78% of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum enlistment age for the Army should be 18 or above.
  • Research by ForcesWatch indicates that those who join the armed forces at the youngest age are more likely to experience mental health difficulties and to be at risk of injury or fatality.
  • Research by ForcesWatch, based on Ministry of Defence figures, indicates that that recruiting from age 16 is very cost-ineffective and a waste of tax payers money.
  • Other countries with armed forces of comparable size to the UK's (as a proportion of population) do not find that recruiting from age 16 is operationally necessary.

Key sources of information: ForcesWatch paper, webpage on changing the age of recruitment


Is the promotion of the armed forces and 'military ethos' appropriate within education? Should parents be consulted about the involvement of the military at their school?

Key points

  • The military visit around 11,000 schools and colleges a year to promote the work of the armed forces and a career in them.
  • Under the coalition government, the Department for Education developed a number of policies that aimed to promote 'military ethos in schools', including expanding cadets forces into state schools and funding organisations to run military-style activities for pupils at risk of failing. These policies are aimed at schools in areas of disadvantage.
  • Over £36 million pounds has been given toward 'military ethos in schools' projects since 2012, prioritising military-related provision at the expense of other initiatives that also foster a strong ethos. Peace education and conflict resolution gets little support from central government.
  • In 2014 the coalition government sent The British Armed Forces: Learning Resource to every school in England. This promotional document was criticised by educationalists as political interference and as a poor and unbalanced learning resource.
  • The Ministry of Defence state that the armed forces do not recruit in schools, specifying that, "no pupil or 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". However, it is clear from several of their own documents and statements, as well as other evidence that long‐term recruitment is one of the main outcomes of such visits, along with raising 'positive awareness ' about the armed forces.
  • The 'military ethos in schools' policy is part of a range of government policies that seek to promote the armed forces within society. A one sided and uncritical view of the military, which deters awareness of alternatives to conflict and favours military solutions, is not in the interests of young people or wider society.

Key sources of information: ForcesWatch leaflet, webpage on challenging the military in schools, Quaker briefing on 'The New Tide of Militarism'


ForcesWatch comment


On 7 December 2014, Michael Gove’s successor as Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan made her support for the Military Ethos in Schools programme clear by pledging a further £4.8 million to eight ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’ schemes. This follows previous funding between 2012 and 2014 that amounted to £8.2 million.

ForcesWatch have previously raised concerns over the funding of alternative provision with a military ethos, noting that by targeting those children who are most disadvantaged within society, these militarised initiatives may restrict children’s options, even channelling them into the armed forces. Furthermore, being co-ordinated by armed forces veterans, it is debatable to what extent alternative provision with a military ethos provides a balanced insight into life in the armed forces. Implicit within alternative provision with a military ethos is the assumption that the ‘ethos’ of the armed forces makes veterans particularly qualified to develop young children and improve their life-chances. In reality, this assumption needs examination, especially considering the ample claims of bullying, sexual harassment, and human rights abuses that are regularly levied against the armed forces. Whilst some armed forces veterans may make excellent mentors for students, these qualities are not conditional on their socialisation within the military, and many civilians, in other public services for example, will possess similar qualities. Finally, we question whether tthis is really all about raising educational attainment. Are there wider agendas at work and are military-based activities appropriate within education?

The Quakers have written a letter with their concerns about the new announcement to Nicky Morgan, which can be read here. Below are our key initial concerns.


ForcesWatch comment

This year over 550 schools around the country have held a Red, White and Blue Day on 11th October, which involves pupils raising money for three military charities by wearing clothes in the colours of the Union flag, or holding another fundraising event.

Whilst the military charities may be funding valuable services for armed forces families, the method of fundraising in schools is very questionable. Is this patriotic celebration of the armed forces, and trivialising of war (for example getting primary school students to pretend to be soldiers) appropriate within schools? Whilst the day is notionally about 'what life is like for the thousands of Service children in the UK', it looks more like just another opportunity for school children to be be won over with military hardware or have to listen to armed forces presentations 'about service and life in the Armed Forces.'  Was there time for discussion or reflection on Red, White and Blue Day about the real effect of war on service children, as well as those serving, or wider issues such as the ethics of war? How do students from countries that have recently experienced - or are experiencing - conflict feel when war is trivialised or the focus reverts again to the Second World War, which has become a hollow symbol of Britishness, with much of the reality of it forgotten?

There are an increasing number of special days or commemorative periods in schools dedicated to the military or the armed forces: Camo Day, Armed Forces Day, Uniform to Work Day (for reservists), Remembrance events and the poppy appeal and National Heroes Day. While the latter widens the possibility of who a hero can be - not just military people (although quite a few of these are listed) but also firefighters, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and others - it still just raises money for the military charity Help for Heroes.

There is no other group in society for which there exists half a dozen different occasions throughout the year when schools are asked to honour them. School children should not be called upon to show unqualified support for the armed forces and they should not be seen as a fundraising opportunity in place of inadequate state provision for those that are sent into war and their families.