ForcesWatch comment


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.

'All the Services are particularly keen not to overtly link cadets and recruiting and this must continue in the public eye.’ MoD Youth Engagement Review 2011

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'.


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?