‘Targeted messaging’ in schools about armed forces careers not for the ‘well-being’ of students
Schools Week today report that the Ministry of Defence requested 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. There is substantial evidence that the armed forces already engage with 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 – and run military activities such as cadets in them – at all?
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.
See more: military in schools/colleges, recruitment, education