ForcesWatch comment


This article was originally published in Red Pepper

Vron Ware reports on how the Armed Forced Community Covenant is a crucial part of the creeping militarisation of UK society.

As we mark the centenary of WW1 the UK armed forces are enjoying the highest levels of public support that they have seen for decades. One result of the global 'war on terror' has been the elevation of military service, not just as an exceptional form of labour which is due particular rewards, but also as an occupation that benefits the whole society. The last few years have seen the increasing application of military values, methods and even training in civilian spheres such as education, youth work and leisure. The Department for Education, for example, promotes the ‘military ethos’ in schools on the grounds that this ‘helps foster confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem whilst developing teamwork and leadership skills’ (the original 'landing page' for the Military Ethos in Schools programme has not been included on the DfE's new website, leading to suspicions that it was removed quietly in response to numerous criticisms and concerns raised about the programme). In November 2013 the DfE announced that £4.8 million would be allocated to fund new projects run by former armed services personnel after research showed they were ‘turning around the lives of thousands of young people’.

Over the past year, a new network of writers, artists and campaigners has been forming in opposition to the creeping militarization of everyday life, an issue analysed in Sam Walton's recent piece for Red Pepper. This was partly inspired by a ForcesWatch conference in London in October 2013. The conference spanned numerous angles, from the development of ‘militainment’ in popular culture to the ruthless promotion of the UK arms industry in the global war economy.

As politicians have sought to prove their own commitment to the troops in an effort to control ‘the message’ about the wars, they have effectively turned this public concern into a political instrument. One consequence has been that, within the last two or three years, local authorities up and down the country, from borough to county level, urban, metropolitan and rural, have been ushered into an unprecedented programme of support for the armed forces in their areas. This development is symptomatic of a wider process of integrating military work into civil society, but it also reveals the social costs of maintaining a professional military force at home.


ForcesWatch comment

On Thursday 26 June 2014, we launched our new short documentary film 'Engage: the military and young people', at Friends House in London. A packed and diverse audience watched the film, which was very well-received. Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans for Peace UK, spoke on his experience joining the Army as a result of being in the cadets and his reasons for leaving during the invasion of Iraq; Sam Hepworth, staff member of Headliners (the youth journalists charity who made the film) and some of the young filmmakers spoke about their approach to researching and making the film; and Owen Everett, Education Campaign worker at ForcesWatch, outlined the concerns about the promotion of 'military ethos' and the cadets within education.

The lively discussion was testament to the film's balance which provoked both those critical of the military's 'engagement' with young people and those supportive of aspects of it. The film shows that many young people are critical of military activities in their schools and the motivations behind it. It also shows that, while participation in cadet activities may benefit some young people, it also makes them more likely to consider joining the armed forces. The film questions the agenda behind the 'youth engagement' policy and the reluctance of the Department for Education and Ministry of Defence to discuss it with young people themselves.

Other important points were made. There are alteratives to the cadets, such as the Woodcraft Folk and the Scouts, who provide similar activities and personal development opportunities to the cadets, but without the cadets' military context and status as a tool for recruitment into the armed forces and for giving young people a positive impression of the armed forces as a 'noble, fun' institution. Contributions from veterans highlighted the need to understand the reality of what the armed forces do for anyone considering joining up.

The launch was timely, given the recent government announcement of a further £1 million towards the expansion of the Combined Cadet Force in state schools - which prompted this critical piece from Giles Fraser - and the fact that (armed forces) Uniform to Work Day, Camo Day (schoolchildren dressing as armed forces personnel to raise money for an armed forces charity), and Armed Forces Day all happened last week: see here for our piece on this on openDemocracy, 'The creep of militarism into our civil institutions'.

British Forces News filmed some of the film launch, for a video piece on 'the presence of the armed forces in British Schools'.

The full film should be available on the ForcesWatch website by Wednesday 9 July. In the meantime you can watch a trailer of it at

Our task once the film is online is to get it watched by as many people as possible - especially young people. Please help us by circulating the link to your friends, family and colleagues. If you have connections to any schools, colleges or youth groups in the UK, please get in touch with Owen at / 020 7837 2822, as we are delivering workshops and assemblies based on the film.

Photos from the launch: top - Sam Hepworth and some of the film-makers, and Ben Griffin; middle - Simone and Shanelle, Air Cadets who both feature in the film; bottom - news article about 'the presence of the armed forces in British schools' on British Forces News.


ForcesWatch comment

Images: Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum

This article was originally published on openDemocracy

What national day is celebrated at the end of June in the UK? Many people may struggle to answer that as Armed Forces Day has only been established for 5 years but in 2014 there are over 200 public events “to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces.” For many, it will go unnoticed unless you happen to come across a local parade or military-themed 'family fun day' in your town or city centre, but Armed Forces Day represents a major shift in military-civil relations over the last 6 or 7 years that has seen the embedding of the military in civilian institutions in a way never seen before. What will be the impact on how we, as a society, view and accept military activities and military approaches? How will the promotion of the military affect young people as the next generation of 'future soldiers'?

This week has also seen Camo Day, established by a veterans’ charity to encourage school children across the country to “dress up like our troops” as a means to raise funds, and Uniform to Work Day, when reservists are encouraged to display their commitment to the services by wearing their armed forces uniform to their main job. The Armed Forces Day website states that, “UK Armed Forces defend the UK and its interests. They are busy working around the world, promoting peace, delivering aid, tackling drug smugglers and providing security and fighting terrorism.” Not only is this something of a rebranding or overlooking of the recent unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the public displays of support for the armed forces that it calls for also reinforce military activities and service as normal, desirable, and fun. Questions about why so many young men and women are killed or maimed or are in need of welfare are unlikely to be explored, as accompanying educational materials testify. As with the poppy appeal, which has become a corporate-led celebration of the military, these spectacles sell the armed forces as an unquestionable good and as a future career.

Institutionalising public support

These displays of support for the armed forces are a reflection of what the Quakers have called 'a new tide of militarism', which can be tracked through a raft of new policy that is embedding 'public support' for the military within our civilian institutions – from the promotion of 'military ethos' in schools to the Armed Forces Community Covenant and Armed Forces Corporate Covenant, which aim to have every local authority and major business enlisted to support the armed forces and aid recruitment.

Armed Forces Day itself comes out of the Government report of 2008, National Recognition of our Armed Forces, which set out to establish a host of 'countervailing measures' to address a concern that support for the forces had been eroded by recent conflicts. The Armed Forces Covenant, recognised in law in 2011, sets out the 'moral obligation' between the armed forces, the government and the country. The Covenant talks of “honouring the commitment and sacrifice of the armed forces”, tackling disadvantage and isolation felt by the armed forces community, and “reflecting the nation's respect”. In creating a framework for removing disadvantage in housing, healthcare, education, deployment and other areas, the government has also created a mechanism whereby local authorities, business, educational, charities and community organisations are morally obliged to honour the forces. The Armed Forces Community Covenant, while being a 'voluntary statement' of support, has been signed by almost every local authority in the UK. Covenants are signed by the council and often numerous partner agencies; the voluntary sector and other local organisations are then encouraged to show support. Many local authorities have appointed an 'Armed Forces Champion' or dedicated council officer to oversee services to that one community.

In 2013 the Chancellor gave £35m from the LIBOR funds to the Community Covenant grant scheme, at the same time that funding for other parts of the community is being cut. While removing disadvantage towards genuine equality is important, the Community Covenant goes much further by urging local authorities to build on wider support such as “fundraising, military celebrations and open days, attending homecoming parades and repatriation ceremonies and offering commercial discounts.” Many councils have cited the Covenant in their Armed Forces Day publicity. When asked by peace campaigners why Wrexham Council was reneging on its previous stance of not allowing military machinery in the public space, the local Armed Forces Champion stated that, “We have planned an event that has at its core the obligations of the Armed Forces Covenant... In addition to military displays, marches and entertainment there are also numerous veterans associations present that can and indeed do help the needs of ex-forces personnel and their families”. Wrexham's Armed Forces Day, which took place on 21 June and was jointly funded by the Council, the Ministry of Defence and the Welsh Government, featured military vehicles and weapons, a military helicopter, an RAF simulator, and obstacle courses - all of which children could interact with. Its advertising featured a toddler in military uniform. The day itself had its own ambassador, a young veteran who, in a promotional video for the event, encourages young people to join the cadets and espouses the benefits of a military career. 

A more recent addition to the Covenant family is the Armed Forces Corporate Covenants. It has so far been signed by over 100 companies including utilities, educational and financial institutions and charities, as well as parts of the defence industry. Companies are encouraged to offer “employment support for veterans, reservists, service spouses and partners, as well as support for cadet units, Armed Forces Day, and discounts for the armed forces community.” The Corporate Covenant will provide an important channel for reservists into the forces via their employers in support of the MoD's Future Reserves policy, which seeks to significantly increase the proportion of reservists in relation to regular forces. The need to recruit high numbers of reservists has necessitated an extensive campaign to reach potential recruits wherever they may be found: the Army are already prominent in job centres and are providing training schemes for the long-term unemployed.


Letter to The Times (see all signatories below)

On this day 100 years ago, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in an action that led to the First World War. Unchecked militarism in Europe was also a major factor. 

Today is also Armed Forces Day, one of the clearest indications of the re-militarisation of British society. Established in 2009 to increase public support for the forces, there are over 200 public events, many billed as 'family fun days'. This week also saw Uniform to Work Day promoting the reserve forces and 'Camo Day' in schools. 

Behind this PR offensive is a raft of policy that is embedding 'public support' for the military within our civilian institutions - from the promotion of 'military ethos' in schools, to the Armed Forces Community Covenant and Corporate Covenant that aim to enlist every local authority and major business to support the armed forces and aid recruitment. 

Over 453 UK service personnel have died in Afghanistan; 34 were just 18 or 19 years old. Thousands more have to cope with long-term physical and mental problems. With so many military casualties - not to mention uncounted numbers of civilians deaths - and new security threats that waging war has created, surely it is time to reflect on the longer-term impact of our military culture and to ask what steps we might take to prevent war itself. 

Philip Austin, Northern Friends Peace Board

Richard Bickle, Fellowship of Reconciliation (England)

Hannah Brock, War Resisters' International

Kevin Burr, National Justice and Peace Network

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi UK

Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK

Bruce Kent, Vice President, Movement for the Abolition of War

Jan Melichar, Peace Pledge Union

Lorraine Mirham, UK Women's International League for Peace and Freedom 

Emma Sangster, ForcesWatch


ForcesWatch Comment

The terms ‘military academies’ and ‘military free schools’ have been bandied about since at least January 2012, but there is a lack of clarity as to what they actually mean. This article explains what military academies / free schools are (as well as what they could be), and explores the concerns that they raise: the lack of evidence that they will raise attainment; that they can employ unqualified teachers; their limited accountability to the local community (both during and after the consultation process); and the fact that they can set their own curriculum. All of these are heightened by the fact that there are various agendas behind military academies and free schools, including providing employment for the growing number of veterans, and encouraging pupils to join the armed forces after they leave school. There is also unease about what military-style discipline would look like in a school environment. Are military activities and military approaches appropriate within mainstream secondary education, and are they in the best interests of young people and – in the longer-term – society as a whole?

What exactly are military academies and free schools?

The term ‘military academy’ might conjure up the image of an exclusively military school whose students will join the armed forces when they finish their studies. There is already one such institution in the UK: Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in Loughborough, whose pupils are expected to become engineers and technical officers in the armed forces or the Ministry of Defence civil service. Similarly, the Military Preparation Colleges in Cardiff and Bristol, run by ex-forces staff, offer various military training courses to help 16-18 year-olds ‘pass selection’. There is also a Military and Public Services Academy at Bicton College in Devon and ‘Military Academy’ run as part of Accrington & Rossendale College in Lancashire, which prepare post-GCSE students for a career in the armed forces through a BTEC in Uniformed Services – a course consisting largely of outdoor activities, whose students wear military uniform. However, ‘military academies and free schools’ here refer to the initiative the Department for Education announced it was interested in “exploring” in November 2012: “academies and Free Schools…[that] use their freedoms to foster a military ethos and raise standards”. It invited applications from schools that want to become military academies, and groups that want to set up a military free school. The proposal is part of the DfE’s Military Ethos in Schools programme, which comprises other initiatives already being rolled out in English state schools: ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’, the expansion of the Combined Cadet Force, Troops to Teachers, and a cadet version of National Citizen Service.

The DfE state that “There are a variety of ways in which a [free or academy] schoolcan foster a military ethos including: bringing Armed Service leavers in as teachers or mentors through Troops to Teachers; opening a cadet unit within a school; or using the [alternative] provision of groups like SkillForce and Challenger Troop”. They say that there is no need for “a new classification of ‘Military Academy’”, but rather that they envisage academies and/or free schools taking on a ‘military ethos’ by adopting one or more elements of the Military Ethos in Schools programme. However, they admit that “There is no clear definition of what an academy with a military ethos is”, and as other proponents of military academies and free schools have different visions of what they are/should be, it is useful to track the origins of the idea, and look at some examples.