Military ethos in schools is not character education but recruitment propaganda, claim Mark Thomas and Clare Short


Citizenship Foundation

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In a new film from the Quakers, comedian Mark Thomas and former MP Clare Short claim the Government is misusing the education system to encourage support for its wars and to promote careers in the armed forces.

The Unseen March was filmed by The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), in response to growing concerns about the Government’s promotion of the armed forces and its rhetoric around British values and character.

Quakers hope the film will provoke an open, public debate about the role of the armed forces in education and closer examination of what we really mean by expecting schools to teach character and British values.

In the film, Ben Griffin – a former paratrooper and founder of Veterans for Peace – believes the military is selling the idea of military ethos in order to gain access to schools.

He claims that ‘military ethos’ is actually about instilling obedience without question, developing a gang mentality and removing the innate psychological barrier to killing.

Citizenship Foundation founding director Don Rowe is ‘shocked’. ‘Education is about teaching young people how to think,’ he says, ‘how to be rational, how to look at evidence, how to weigh up different points of view’. A recent armed forces’ teaching pack is, he claims, ‘nothing more than a promotional booklet’.

Clare Short thinks that people don’t want to criticise British soldiers, but also that they ‘don’t want the glorification of war and militarisation, and that’s what’s going on quietly, and people need to know’.

‘The “military ethos” is that somehow this is character building,’ says Mark Thomas.

‘Whose character? What character? It doesn’t mean a character as in a full sense of a person, an enquiring person, learning about things that they like and want to engage with; what they actually mean is someone being able to follow orders without getting too upset about it. Those are completely different things.’

The film also features Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and Chris Gabbett, headteacher of Trinity School in Leamington Spa.

Schools are expected to teach character and British values and Ofsted will inspect much of it through the SMSC framework (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development); in fact, no headteacher can be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ if they don’t put them at the heart of their school.

At the Citizenship Foundation, education is about helping people understand how things work and how to challenge and change them for the better. We don’t believe values are assumed because schools demand they are; they have to be arrived at through mutual exploration and understanding.

This means giving them genuine, unbiased, propaganda-free opportunities to explore the world and its values for themselves.

See more: military in schools/colleges, Quakers, character building, education, military ethos