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Advocating for change

ForcesWatch's work includes campaigning on the following issues:

  • concerns over the recruitment of under 18 year olds
  • terms of service are complicated, confusing and severely restricting, yet unlike any other employment, breaching them can lead to a criminal conviction
  • the system for registering a conscientious objection is opaque and little information about it is available to serving personnel
  • those in the armed forces are excluded from much human rights legislation. They are not allowed to form a union, speak in public or join political organisations

Our current focus is campaigning to raise the age of armed forces recruitment to 18 years old in line with international standards.

Scroll down further for more about our campaigning work in these areas.

Campaigning to raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18 years

The minimum age for enlisting in the UK armed forces is 16.  The UK is the only country in Europe and the only country on the UN Security Council to recruit 16 year olds into its armed forces and is one of fewer than 20 countries in the world which recruit from the age of 16 years.  Those who sign on when 16 or 17 must serve until they are 22.

The recruitment of minors has been criticised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Parliament’s own Joint Committee on Human Rights and a number of charities. Phasing out recruitment of under-18s would bring the UK into line with international human rights standards. It would provide greater protection for the rights of young people and it would mean that adults could not be held to commitments made as minors. See more on concerns about recruiting under 18s

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: October 2013: as part of the Government response to the Defence Committee's report, The Armed Forces Covenant in Action? Part 4: Education of Service Personnel, the Government have agreed 'that the Armed Forces should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the recruitment of U18s and work has been set in hand with the Army to look at this.' This is a significant step forward and ForcesWatch will be urging the Government to consider all the costs, not just the financial, particularly those borne by individual recruits, when reviewing the issue.

See more of our campaign work on raising the age of recruitment below 

Campaigning to increase awareness about conscientious objection

Life in the armed forces can have a significant effect on the outlook and attitudes of those who undertake it.  Exposure to warfare can radically alter a person’s values and beliefs. 

The armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection.  But this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it.  The system for registering a conscientious objection is opaque and little information about it is easily available. Legislation that fully upholds the right to conscientious objection and makes its procedures accessible and transparent should be passed.

Read our briefing on Conscientious Objection in the UK Armed Forces

See more on conscientious objection here


Campaigning to improve terms and conditions of service within the armed forces

Employment in the armed forces is unique in placing severe restrictions on rights and freedoms that are available to the rest of the UK population.  The armed forces are also the only employers in the UK who legally require their employees to commit themselves for several years, with the risk of a criminal conviction if they try to leave sooner.

This situation is all the more worrying given that the majority of recruits are very young.  There is also evidence that many personnel are unclear about the length of their commitment and their rights to leave and that the information they receive can be misleading.

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: On 19 June 2011, the government announced that it would give teenage soldiers the right to leave the armed forces up until age 18 if they are unhappy. With other organisations, ForcesWatch has been campaigning for under-18s to have the right to leave the forces, and we welcome this development - see more. This is a significant improvement on the current situation which gives under 18s the right to leave only between the 2nd and 6th month of service. Additionally, the legislation allows for a possible reduction in the notice period of 12 months for those aged over 18. These changes came into force in July 2011 - read more here. We will continue to monitor whether recruits are made aware of these new rights.

Read our briefing on Terms of Service in the UK Armed Forces

For more on this issue see here

recent campaigning news & resources

Is it Counterproductive to Enlist Minors into the Army?

December 2016

This article, written by Child Soldiers International and published in the Royal United Service Institute Journal, argues that raising the UK enlistment age from 16 to 18 would bring benefits to young people and the British armed forces. The article explains that the UK’s low enlistment age is counterproductive internationally, as it implies to other countries that it is acceptable to use children under the age of 18 to staff national armed forces.  

The Recruitment of Children by the UK Armed Forces: a Critique from Health Professionals

October 2016

Medact’s report on the long-term impacts of the British military’s recruitment of children under the age of 18, presents evidence linking ‘serious health concerns’ with the policy, and calls for a rise in the minimum recruitment age.

The report’s findings include:

  • Child recruits are more vulnerable to PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits.
  • Military recruitment marketing takes advantage of adolescent cognitive and psychosocial vulnerabilities.
  • The current practices for recruiting children in to the British armed forces do not meet the criteria for full and informed consent.
  • Those recruited as children, upon turning 18, are more likely than adult recruits to end up in frontline combat roles which carry greater risks than other roles.

The UK is one only a handful of countries worldwide to still allow recruitment from age 16, a policy which has been strongly criticised by multiple UN and UK parliamentary bodies, child rights organisations and human rights groups.

Soldiers at 16: Sifting fact from fiction

March 2016

Published by Child Soldiers International, this short and accessible booklet addresses questions often raised about under-18s in the armed forces, presenting the facts - based on extensive research - rather than the fiction. Also contains very useful quotes and statistics. Great when talking to your MP or for those thinking of enlisting!

Despite this widespread unease about the policy of recruiting 16 and 17 years olds into the armed forces, a number of common misconceptions still lead many under-18s to leave their education early and enlist. This booklet examines these ‘myths’ in light of the evidence available.

‘The fact that the British armed forces continue to recruit from the age of 16 sets a poor example internationally and impedes global efforts to end the use of child soldiers. The Army surely does not need to make youngsters sign up formally at such a young age – there have to be other, better ways to meet our requirements whilst respecting our human rights obligations.’

Major General (retd) Tim Cross CBE

UN observations on UK and childrens' rights

June 2016

The Committee on the Rights of the Child recently reviewed the UK's position on implementing the articles and protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They made a number of recommendations relating to the armed forces recruitment of under-18s and the military's activities in schools.

Report: 'Commonsense and Understanding': Recommendations from the Defence Committee's Duty of Care report that are still outstanding 10 years on


This report highlights seven recommendations from the Defence Committee’s report Duty of Care: Third Report of Session 2004-05 which have not been partially or fully implemented, and around which substantial concerns remain.

ForcesWatch recommends that:

  • The manner in which the armed forces meet their recruitment needs must not jeopardise the best interests of young people, and that the recruitment of under-18s should stop.
  • That the Defence Committee commission thorough, independent review of the policy of recruiting 16 and 17 year olds into the armed forces.
  • That the other Duty of Care report recommendations discussed here are implemented without further delay and that the MoD report to the Defence Committee on their progress in implementing them.
  • That the Defence Committee review the Duty of Care report and request that the MoD account for its implementation or otherwise of all remaining recommendations.

Army Recruitment: Comparative cost-effectiveness of recruiting from age 16 versus age 18

September 2014

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, shows that the taxpayer would save approximately £50 million per annum if the minimum age of recruitment were raised to 18; it would also result in the army needing to find about 211 fewer new recruits annually, based on current numbers joining the trained strength.

The paper concludes that the case to cease recruiting from age 16 is now overwhelming and urges a full, independent review of the policy, with a view to phasing out the recruitment of minors as an unnecessary, cost-ineffective, and fundamentally unethical practice.

Defence Committee report challenges the MoD (again) to produce a 'robust and thorough' review of under 18 recruitment

6 March 2014: The Defence Select Committee have today released their report of inquiry into the MoD's Future Army 2020 plan. Amid the concerns about the strategy of increasing the proportion of reservists in relation to regular forces, the report calls on the MoD “to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans”. Read our submission to the inquiry here.

Read more

Raising the age of recruitment: an open letter and a cautious welcome of the MoD review

8 November 2013: ForcesWatch are among 24 signatories of an open letter to Mark Francois MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces which calls for an end to the recruitment of under-18s.. The signatories include the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Unitarian Church and Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker groups and Child Soldiers International. The letter notes that as the centenary of the outbreak of World War One approaches, the recruitment and deployment age of British soldiers is lower now than it was a century ago. The signatories call on the Ministry to raise the recruitment age to 18 as a “fitting memorial” to the thousands of young soldiers killed in World War One.

ForcesWatch welcomes the statement by the Government that it "agrees that the Armed Forces should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the recruitment of U18s" but we are concerned that it be as independent and transparent as possible and cover all the issues affecting the welfare of young recruits within the armed forces. Despite commissioning the review, the MoD continue to maintain that "There are currently no plans to revisit the Government's recruitment policy for under-18s".

Read more 

ForcesWatch submission to Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties

March 2014

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties draws on our research published in The Last Ambush and concludes that:

  • The continued targeted recruitment of minors from disadvantaged backgrounds deserves to be re-appraised from the perspective of long-term mental health risks that this group faces. 
  • Where possible, we hope that the development of military health research will better specify personnel who face higher and lower risks.
  • Future research could also better account for personnel who show some symptoms of mental ill-health but are not counted as full ‘cases’ of a specific ‘disorder’. 
  • A large number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to need mental health support services for years to come.  It falls to the state to take prime responsibility for ensuring that the long-term welfare needs of injured veterans are met.  That is an expensive undertaking, which it behoves any government to appreciate and accept before deciding whether to send young men and women to war

The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces

28 October 2013

This report from ForcesWatch, shows that young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health. It calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder.

Download the full report (PDF 1294kb)

Download the Executive Summary (PDF 268kb)

Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan

August 2013

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above. This increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is mainly the result of recruitment policies which drive the youngest recruits into the Army’s most dangerous roles.

ForcesWatch submission to Defence Select Committee Future Army 2020 inquiry

June 2013

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Committee's inquiry Future Army 2020, which recomments an evaluation of the case for an independent review of the minimum age of recruitment into the Army with a view to recruiting only adults (aged 18 and above) in the future, looking at five reasons why the time is right for this.

One Step Forward: The case for ending recruitment of minors by the British armed forces

April 2013

This report published by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch outlines the numerous ethical and legal concerns related to rhe recruitment of under-18s, including the disproportionately high level of risk they face and long-term consequences for their employability, as well as detailing how much more it costs than recruiting only adults.

Mind the Gap: Education for minors in the British armed forces

July 2012

Published by Child Soldiers International

The minimum recruitment age for the British armed forces – 16 years – is one of the lowest in the world. The Ministry of Defence has traditionally justified recruiting from this age group by asserting that 16 years reflects the minimum statutory school leaving age.

This report concludes that the impact of recruitment below the age of 18 opens up a number of gaps that have long term significance, not only for the armed forces but also for the young people that they recruit. At a time of considerable downsizing of the army in particular, the large gap between the cost of training minors (who cannot be deployed operationally) and adults (who can) is difficult to sustain. But perhaps the most significant cost is in the detrimental impact that the gaps identified have on the future prospects of minors recruited by our armed forces.

Catch 16-22: Recruitment and retention of minors in the British Armed Forces

March 2011

This report, published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "challenges the status quo currently surrounding the situation of young people in the UK armed forces today. It questions the ethics and legality of the restrictions on young recruits’ rights of discharge, their minimum period of service, and their exposure to the risk of hostilities. The report also makes the case for a considered review and debate on the minimum recruitment age. It highlights the evidence that not only is the experience of recruits in the 16 – 18 age bracket adversely affected by their relative lack of maturity, but that their high drop-out rate results in millions of pounds in wasted expenditure."

British army: one young recruit's story, The Guardian 2013

Ask your MP to support raising the age of recruitment

Public support rise in army recruitment age

October 2014

A nationwide poll conducted in July 2014 by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd found that 78 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum enlistment age for the Army should be 18 or above. Just 14 per cent of respondents thought the minimum age should be 16 (as it currently is) or less.

An identically worded poll conducted in April 2013 by ICM found 70 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum enlistment age should be 18 or above, with 20 per cent supporting 16 or younger.

related news

On the day that the Harrogate abuse court martials were dropped and the press was allowed to comment after reporting restrictions were lifted, there was coverage in almost all the major news outlets. Our comments, and those of partner organisations, were also reported.

09/10/2017 Various

A passionate debate was held on Sunday 8 October at the SNP Conference on Raising the Minimum Age of Military Recruitment to 18. The motion was passed!

12/09/2017 Various

A letter to the Guardian (12/09/17) from more than 50 academics has called for the age of recruitment ot the UK armed forces to be raised to 18. It backs a conference motion from SNP Youth in support of this.

10/07/2017 The Guardian and The Independent

The Army's latest recruitment campaign focuses on low income families from cities with high deprivation levels.

13/06/2017 Huffington Post

"Joining at 16 is massively psychologically damaging and issues of PTSD, suicide and depression are major issues for veterans, and more so for teenage recruits. I think it is hugely important the recruitment age is raised. I now work with Veterans for Peace as a volunteer educating young people on the realities of war and support advocacy group Child Soldiers International, who recently launched its Declare18! campaign, to get governments to raise the age to 18."  By Wayne Sharrocks, former British Army officer

23/01/2017 The Independent

The UK is one of few countries that allow minors to enlist. Despite calls to cease the recruitment of under-18s the Army is digging in to hold its ground.

23/01/2017 Bella Caledonia

The new British Army advert is astonishing. Organised violence as antidote to anomie.

24/11/2016 Child Soldiers International press release

Figures released today reveal that the British Army has increased its intake of 16-year-olds in the past 12 months, defying calls from the UN, children’s rights organisations and others campaigning for an end to the recruitment of minors.

Ask your MP to sign an Early Day Motion on The Recruitment of Minors into the UK Armed Forces. If you are in Scotland, ask your MSP to sign a similar motion on the Medact Report on British Armed Forces Recruitment.

18/10/2016 Guardian

Recruiting children aged 16 and 17 into the British army places them at greater risk of death, injury and long-term mental health problems than those recruited as adults, according to a new report.

The Military in Society

ForcesWatch observe and respond to ways in which the military is being promoted as a normal part of everyday life. We believe that uncritical support for the armed forces stifles concerns about how young people are recruited and limits debate on alternatives to war.

The military are being promoted as a solution to social problems. For example, the Department for Education are promoting 'military skills and ethos' in national education policy as a response to the crisis they perceive in education. The armed forces already make thousands of visits to schools and colleges in the UK. Are military-led activities and a military approach appropriate within education? What about aspects of military ethos which are different to the values of education around issues of critical thinking and obedience, for example? Is the operation of the chain of command, such as within school-based cadet forces, appropriate within an educational setting?

The military are increasingly visible at public events such as the 2012 Olympics. The armed forces were involved in the event in many ways, from security to attendance at ceremonies. Is the presence of armed security and missiles on rooftops the future for public events? How does this determine the acceptable level of arms and armed forces seen in our public spaces?

In recent years, the act of remembrance has taken on a celebratory dimension. Remembrance of those who have suffered in war has been made inseparable from supporting the armed forces and military activities in current conflicts. A number of veterans have expressed concern that the poppy is becoming politicised on the one hand and increasingly like show business on the other.

Many other ways in which the military is being promoted in everyday life can be traced back to the 2008 Report of Inquiry into the National Recognition of the Armed Forces. This report recommended 40 measures for 'increasing visibility', 'improving contact', 'building understanding' and 'encouraging support' for the armed forces. Measures include more support for homecoming parades; more involvement of the armed forces in schools and the expansion of the cadet forces; and, the establishment of Armed Forces Day.

More recent policy related to the Military Covenant, which "recognises that the whole nation, has a moral obligation to members of the armed forces and their families", is institutionalising the armed forces yet further into civilian life. The Armed Forces Community Covenant is a kind of contract or partnership between local communities and their armed forces "to support the service community in their area and promote understanding and awareness among the public of issues affecting the armed forces community". Almost every single local authority in the UK has signed a covenant and £5 million of central government funding had been given for promotion and grants to local initiatives, including those in schools and play activities. Local authorities are organising or taking part in celebrations of the armed forces which go much further than "promoting understanding and awareness" in order to remove disadvantage in access to services expereinces by the armed forces.

The Armed Forces Corporate Covenant has been signed by businesses and charities and organisations representing industry that "wish to demonstrate their concrete support for the armed forces community". One aim is to supply the large number of new reserve personnel necessary under the Future Reserves policy. This is also resulting in an increase in recruitment activity in community spaces, job centres and the workplace. 

As the armed forces become embedded further into civilian life and their needs prioritised, what is the impact of these policies on public life in the UK? Are we creating a society in which it will become very difficult for young people to develop a critical awareness about military issues? Will they have the awareness they need to make an informed decisions about joining up? Will alternatives to war look less feasible? How will this affect them and wider society as a whole?

Answering difficult questions about militarism


With the presence of the military in public spaces increasing and a high level of popularity for the armed forces, it is not always easy to respond to challenging questions that people pose in when faced with concerns expressed about militarism. Here we explore some responses to questions about how much the armed forces should be involved in our everyday lives, how they relate to young people, and the effectiveness and consequences of military action.

Rethinking Remembrance in Schools


This paper, published by ForcesWatch in 2016, explores ways in which teaching remembrance in schools can be used as a way of encouraging critical thinking about what and how we remember, and how this can be used to foster a culture of peace.

It discusses the importance of encouraging emotional engagement in the consequences of war and of avoiding euphemistic language that overly sanitises and simplifies its causes and consequences. The paper looks at educational opportunities in exploring the meaning of the white poppy as an alternative to the red poppy and alternatives to violent responses to conflict.

The paper includes some ideas for how to teach remembrance and provides links to education resources and background reading for use around remembrance and wider education for and about peace.

Talks about militarism from MAW Youth conference

October 2016

Listen to talks given by David Gee (writer on militarism and campaigning to raise the age of recruiting into the UK armed forces) and Ben Griffin (Veterans for Peace UK) from the conference on Creeping Militarisation of Everyday Life organised by Movement for the Abolition of War Youth. 

Armed Forces Day - manufacturing consent

ForcesWatch Comment, June 2015

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. 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.

Read more

Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism

October 2014

By David Gee, published by ForcesWatch

At a comfortable distance from warfare, our culture easily passes over its horrific reality in favour of an appealing, even romantic, spectacle of war. Militarism, past and present, attempts to control public opinion by aligning it with its own worldview. In his new book, Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism, David Gee takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, exploring these dynamics – distance, romance, control – in three essays, accompanied by three shorter pieces about the cultural treatment of war and resistance to the government's increasingly prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war.

Security for the future: In search of a new vision

This report, published by the Ammerdown Group, May 2016, explores how we can best build long-term security for people in the UK and worldwide.

The report outlines concerns about the existing model, and offer a different vision for the future. Read more

War and peace

Letter to The Times (see all signatories here)

On this day 100 years ago, Archduke Franz 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.

The new tide of militarisation

April 2014

Militarism has existed in the Britain for a long time, but there is a new tide of militarisation that has developed over the last five years. This briefing from Quaker Peace and Social Witness examines government reports, and reveals the government strategy to increase public support for the military, in order to raise the willingness of the public to pay for the military, make recruitment easier, and stifle opposition to unpopular wars.

The Poppy

David Gee, ForcesWatch, 07/11/2013

When I was about seven, my dad took me to the local Remembrance Day memorial. Neatly turned-out elderly men were stood in equally neat rows while The Last Post was played. I wondered why everyone looked so sad. Dad said it was because their friends had been killed in the war; this day was to remember them. I wore a poppy then and I am glad that I did.


A photo from the British Legion website showing children wearing 'Future Soldier' t-shirts - the poppy as remembrance or as a recruitment tool?  Contact them if you are concerned by this exploitation of remembrance and young people.

Read more here

Militarisation in everyday life in the UK

This event, held in London in 2013, brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on, or just concerned about the implications of the militarisation of everyday life in the UK.

Many areas of society in the UK have seen a growing involvement and/or visibility of the military over recent years - from the growing influence of the military and military approaches in schools, to greater presence and privileging of the military in local communities. In response, there has been a corresponding increase in academic studies, media coverage, and work by campaigning organisations and others on this.

In Globalisation and Militarism, Cynthia Enloe, one of the foremost thinkers and writers in this area, states that, ‘To become militarized is to adopt militaristic values and priorities as one's own, to see military solutions as particularly effective, to see the world as a dangerous place best approached with militaristic attitudes.’ This event explores the process and outcomes of militarisation, focusing on recent developments in the UK and how it is experienced in the everyday life of individuals and communities.

See more here

Poppies and 'Heroes'

5 November 2010

The Guardian

A letter from veterans of a number of conflicts about the the Poppy Appeal and the idea of 'heroism' that it promotes was published in The Guardian and The Independent

The Poppy Appeal is once again subverting Armistice Day. A day that should be about peace and remembrance is turned into a month-long drum roll of support for current wars. This year's campaign has been launched with showbiz hype. The true horror and futility of war is forgotten and ignored.

The public are being urged to wear a poppy in support of "our Heroes". There is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle. There is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about fighting in an unnecessary conflict.

Remembrance should be marked with the sentiment "Never Again".

Ben Griffin (Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq)

Ben Hayden (Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq)

Terry Wood (Northern Ireland, Falklands)

Ken Lukowiak (Northern Ireland, Falklands)

Neil Polley (Falklands)

Steve Pratt (Dhofar, Northern Ireland)

At a comfortable distance from warfare, our culture easily passes over its horrific reality in favour of an appealing, even romantic, spectacle of war. Yet, over the last decade, most Britons have opposed Western military ventures abroad. This book takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, public resistance to it, and the government's prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war.  See details & buy book

For all news about the military in education see here

Presentations from the Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference

November 2013

The Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference was held in London in 2013 and was organised by ForcesWatch. It brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners concerned about the implications of the militarisation of everyday life in the UK.

12 presentations were filmed. For more details and background reading, see here.

Diana Francis, Looking at everyday militarisation. See more presentations.

more news & comment

11/11/2017 Forceswatch Comment

Every year, the fury levied at those who critique or refuse the red poppy obscures the complexity and spectrum of views such dissenters open up. What is lost in this explosion of vitriol and misunderstanding is the opportunity to allow us, as empathic human beings, to be open to divergent viewpoints, to think honestly about wars and to discuss their causes.

02/11/2017 ForcesWatch comment

We report from the day of talks and workshops to launch the Take Action on Militarism pack which is designed to equip and support those challenging militarism in their communities.

08/09/2017 ForcesWatch comment

As the largest arms fair in the world takes place in London, we explore how arms companies have become part of the education system in the UK, despite the concerns for human rights and corruption that surround the defence and security industry.

30/08/2017 Poppy Kohner

Poppy Kohner examines the Army@theFringe season at the Edinburgh Festival and asks what becomes censored when elite institutions take on the programming and hosting of the arts.

24/06/2017 ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published in The Morning Star

Local authorities have become the military’s promotional agents and recruiting sergeants. 

A tale of two cities: a personal reflection on the display of the UK's potential for armed violence on the streets of Liverpool alongside its more radical history.

This article was originally published by Souciant Magazine

21/06/2017 ForcesWatch Comment

"Peace is possible, and it isn't just inevitable to have violence... so advertise yourself that you're for peace if you believe in it."

Imagine John Lennon alive today, with a ticket to ride back to his hometown, Liverpool, on 24 June 2017, the day that the city hosts Armed Forces Day.

Armed Forces Day is on Saturday 24 June, or 17 June in some places. Over 350 events which package war as entertainment with military vehicles, weapons and recruiting stalls will be taking place across the UK. The national event is taking place in Liverpool. Here we list alternative events that are challenging the militarism of Armed Forces Day with vigils and events promoting peace.

A history teacher from Coventry got in touch with ForcesWatch to share her experience of teaching Remembrance to year nine classes this year after reading the resource Rethinking Remembrance in Schools: 'Teaching about Remembrance this year was a vastly different experience for me than previous years'.

Military Out Of Schools

Our Military Out Of Schools campaign aims to take the argument that educational institutions are no place for the military into the public arena and to question assumptions that military 'engagement' with children and young adults is benign.

We recognise the great importance of debate and critical thinking in helping young people make an informed choice about the military and its activities. This is particularly important for those thinking of a career in the forces, a uniquely risk-laden occupation, as our research on how mental health issues and risks of fatality particularly affect young service personnel indicates. If the military are allowed to have a presence and influence in the UK education system then it should be balanced by a thorough exploration of opposing views and approaches, as demanded by the 1996 Education Act.

We provide written and audio-visual information and workshop materials which explore the issues and concerns, to facilitate debate. We also support those who wish to go a step further and call for an complete end to the military's influence in schools or colleges. 

Brief overview of the military's influence in UK schools and colleges

In 2011-12, the most recent year for which UK-wide data are available, UK armed forces visited around 11,000 secondary schools and colleges - a notable increase on the 8450 visits made in 2007-8. Armed forces schools visits teams offer presentations, ‘careers' sessions (including mock interviews), team activities, lesson plans, away days, and much more (see our briefing on military activity in UK schools). They also offer resources to teachers; various scholarships to students in the sixth form or Further Education which commit them to joining the armed forces when they finish their studies; school trips to military bases and museums; and an Army soldier is accompanying every coach of school students from state schools in England to the First World War battlefields (the centrepiece of the government's Centenary programme) for 'educational' purposes. In addition, in 2012 the Department for Education created a 'Military Ethos in Schools' programme for disadvantaged state schools in England. The programme include a major expansion of Combined Cadet Forces, the Troops to Teachers scheme, the development of military 'academies' and 'free schools', and 'alternative provision with a military ethos' - military-style activities instead of normal lessons, for young people who are - or who are at risk of becoming - 'disengaged'. Lastly, there are numerous days in schools each year that have a military focus: Remembrance day, Red White and Blue Day, Camo Day, Uniform to Work Day, and National Heroes Day. 

Our concerns

Are military-led activities and military approaches appropriate within the education system? What about aspects of the 'military ethos' which are very different to the values of education, such as unquestioning obedience to 'superiors' rather than critical thinking? To what extent is this policy driven by militarism - the systematic promotion of the military and military approaches? We recognise that armed forces-related activities in schools can provide exciting and beneficial experiences, but we believe that there are alternative, non-military organisations and approaches that can have the same positive results, without the agendas of recruitment (with all the risks and downsides this brings) and deliberately giving students a positive impression of the armed forces. 

Can military-led activities within schools and colleges, which aim to promote the armed forces and a 'military ethos', give students a balanced point of view? The Ministry of Defence have claimed that their schools engagement is not about recruiting young people into the armed forces, but this is based on the very narrow definition of 'recruitment', where it literally means signing up then and there on school premises (which would be impossible for the majority of students, who are minors, as they would need parental/guardian permission). The MoD note in numerous publications that, in terms of students signing up in the days, weeks, and years afterwards, visits to schools and colleges are a 'powerful tool for facilitating recruitment'. They also state that their engagement with schools is an important way to 'provide positive information to influence future opinion-formers' (see our briefing on military activity in UK schools). We argue that visits to schools are themselves recruitment activities. In coming into contact with young people, the military aim to sow seeds in impressionable young minds. In 2007, the head of the Army’s recruitment strategy said “Our new model is about raising awareness, and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, 'That looks great.' From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip." Some of the research that informed the Military Ethos in Schools policy notes the advantages to both armed forces reserves recruitment, and finding employment for military veterans. ForcesWatch believe that the best interests of young people are often different from the best interests of the military. If we do not provide a challenge to the military's engagement with our children, we are failing them. At minimum, schools and colleges should be ensuring that there is balanced debate, and should require parent/guardian consent for students to take part in an armed forces visit/trip, and to join the CCF, so as to acknowledge the controversial nature of these activities.

Case studies

Many of the biggest teachers' unions in the UK oppose armed forces visits to schools and colleges and/or the Military Ethos in Schools programme: the Educational Institute of Scotland calls for a ban on “military recruitment campaigns in all schools and colleges”, and the National Union of Teachers oppose military recruitment activities in schools which employ "misleading propaganda". Critics of the Troops to Teachers scheme include the NUT, the Association of School and College Leaders, NASUWT, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and the National Association of Head Teachers. Critics of the Combined Cadet Force include UCAC in Wales, who object to the CCF because it comes "too close to constituting recruitment activity".

Different stances of schools: as mentioned above, schools have a  range of stances on military influence. For example, Bro Myrddin Welsh Comprehensive School has for many years banned the armed forces from visiting or providing any resources (although in the rare cases where a pupil wants to join the armed forces, the Careers Wales Officer based at the school helps them get relevant information). Similarly, Trinity Catholic School in Leamington Spa do not have visits from the armed forces or a Combined Cadet Force; their head teacher Chris Gabbett opposes the Military Ethos in Schools programme ('I would suggest that channelling the same funding to improve numeracy and cultural and functional literacy for their younger siblings may have a greater chance of breaking the cycle of poverty, without promoting a military ethos... I think to maintain a local, school based [Combined Cadet] force is anathema to promoting a message of peace') and the recruitment of 16 and 17 year-olds into the armed forces. However, Trinity do allow community cadet units to give assemblies, as part of a rounded education, allowing students to decide whether they want to join or not. A school with a 'neutral' stance is St Teilo's in Cardiff, which does not have a relationship with the armed forces and does permit armed forces visits. Some schools integrate critical thinking on the military’s youth engagement into the curriculum, by inviting an organisation like ForcesWatch or Veterans for Peace UK in to facilitate a workshop, or by creating their own teaching units on the issue, such as the ‘Young people in the military’ unit taken by a year 9 class in one inner-London academy.

In numerous cases students have taken it upon themselves to challenge the influence of the military in their schools:  Members of School Students Against War did leafleting and other forms of protest to highlight and oppose military influence in schools in England and Scotland in 2007-8. More recently, in 2012 two students at Heaton Manor School in Newcastle organised pressure from students and parents after the school set up a cadet force, to which badly-behaved students were sent during lessons on Thursdays. The school promised a consultation, but this never happened. In 2013 students at a school in London didn’t cooperate with Army Reservists running a ‘team-building’ day because they felt that the presentation of the Army Reserve was too one-sided and the Reservists packed up and left at lunchtime. Other students have only cooperated on their terms, such as Emma, who went to a private school for sixth form, where, in order to do A-Level PE she had to join the cadet force; uncomfortable with shooting at human targets and video footage of real people, she instead fired old wooden rifles at non-human targets, and she refused to salute during marching drill. There are also numerous cases of parents/guardians challenging the military's influence at their children's schools, for example at this state primary school.

If you or someone you know have challenged the military's influence in the education system, or if you have any questions or comments, or would like to request a workshop or talk for your school, college, university, or group, please get in touch with us at education@forceswatch.net / 020 7837 2822.

ForcesWatch resources

February 2018

Written evidence submitted by ForcesWatch to the Education Committee's Alternative Provision Inquiry

This submission briefly outlines 'alternative provision with a military ethos' and details a number of concerns - relative effectiveness, targeting disadvantage, lack of consultation and lack of scrutiny.

November 2017

This ForcesWatch briefing analyses data on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland for 2016-17.

Main findings:

  • 770 visits were made by the armed forces to schools in Scotland between April 16 and March 17, including a small number to primary schools and special schools.
  • The Army made 58% of all visits.
  • 68% of state secondary schools are visited in one year, some many times.
  • Three-quarters (75.5%) of visits are promoting a career in the armed forces.
  • State schools are visited far more than independent schools, even taking into account that they are far larger in number.  

The briefing provides an update to our report Armed Forces Visits to Schools in Scotland

military in schools
August 2017

With this new project, the Peace Pledge Union and ForcesWatch will work with local groups around the UK to provide schools with a White Poppies for Schools Pack. The pack includes 100 White Poppies in a display box, alongside an information pack with 10 White Poppy information leaflets and ten Rethinking Remembrance Day resources.

May 2017

In early 2017, the Ministry of Defence, and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, praised the social mobility prospects offered by the military. They presented the military as a champion of social mobility for those who enlist in the lower ranks, and for recruits from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds with low educational attainment.

This briefing explores if these claims about social mobility stand up to scrutiny or whether enlisting in the armed forces can have a negative impact upon social mobility, particularly for very young recruits.

updated 2017

"The army careers advisers who operate in schools are skilled salesmen." Head of Army recruitment strategy, quoted in New Statesman, 2007

The armed forces have a growing involvement in secondary schools, colleges and even primary schools. While the Army, Navy and RAF have long run activities in schools as part of the Ministry of Defence's Youth Engagement programme, the Department for Education promotes 'military ethos' within education, and parts of the armed forces, along with the arms industry, are developing their involvement with curriculum provision and sponsorship of education institutions.

This A4 leaflet (updated 2017) outlines the issue and what the concerns are.

This paper, published by ForcesWatch in 2016, explores ways in which teaching remembrance in schools can be used as a way of encouraging critical thinking about what and how we remember, and how this can be used to foster a culture of peace.

It discusses the importance of encouraging emotional engagement in the consequences of war and of avoiding euphemistic language that overly sanitises and simplifies its causes and consequences. The paper looks at educational opportunities in exploring the meaning of the white poppy as an alternative to the red poppy and alternatives to violent responses to conflict.

The paper includes some ideas for how to teach remembrance and provides links to education resources and background reading for use around remembrance and wider education for and about peace.

June 2016

The Committee on the Rights of the Child recently reviewed the UK's position on implementing the articles and protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They made a number of recommendations relating to the armed forces recruitment of under-18s and the military's activities in schools.

February 2016

This submission outlines a range of general educational and more detailed concerns and questions that need to be addressed in the wake of the growing influence of the military in education and make a number of recommendations for ensuring wider public debate and consultation around these developments and increasing the monitoring and oversight of military involvement in schools.

November 2015

Alternative report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Occasion of the UK's fifth periodic review report

This report focuses on:

  • The absence of a compulsory and organised curriculum of peace education within UK schools.
  • The increased promotion of the military within the educational system by the Government and by the armed forces.
  • Concerns regarding this activity taking place within education, including the process of recruitment to the armed forces.
August 2015

This briefing is a response to the 2012-13 Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee’s investigation into UK armed forces ‘recruitment’ in schools in Wales. It supports the Petition Committee’s recommendations to the Welsh Government by presenting the key evidence that armed forces visits to secondary schools in Wales:

  • are disproportionately high to schools in more disadvantaged areas;
  • do not present a balanced view of the armed forces;
  • and, are more numerous and more career-focused than visits by most other employers(particularly the emergency services).

This 2-sided ForcesWatch briefing (updated 2015):

  • outlines the extent and nature of armed forces visits to schools
  • details the Department for Education's 'Military ethos in schools' policy.
  • outlines the concerns about these activities 
  • suggests what students, parents and others can do to challenge them.
May 2015

The armed forces make around 11,000 visits to secondary schools and colleges schools in the UK each year, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) spends around £26 million each year on school Combined Cadet Force (CCF) units, both of which have a strong recruitment agenda behind them, contrary to the repeated denials of this in recent years by the MoD.

This briefing is a compilation of evidence that contradicts the MoD and armed forces' claims that they don’t recruit in schools and that 'engaging' with students does not have a recruitment purpose.

March 2015

The report is published in conjunction with the video The British Armed Forces: Propaganda in the classroom? produced by Quaker Peace & Social Witness


This report explains why the British Armed Forces Learning Resource (published in September 2014 by the Prime Minister's Office) is a poor quality educational resource, and exposes the resource as a politically-driven attempt to promote recruitment into the armed forces and “military values” in schools.

December 2014

UPDATEsee our new briefing on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland, 2016-17 (Nov 2017)

The report, compiled by ForcesWatch, is based on figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the armed forces on their visits to Scottish schools. It has been co-sponsored by the Educational Institute of Scotland which has expressed concerns that some armed forces visits may have a recruitment purpose.

The report discusses the aims of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces’ ‘youth engagement’ programme and concludes that: “Despite assurances by the Ministry of Defence and the three armed services that the armed forces do not recruit in schools, it is evident that many of the activities provided by members of the armed forces in schools are recruitment-related and the recruitment potential of visits is a key purpose of many, if not most, of their visits to schools.” 

June 2014


A short film made by Headliners and ForcesWatch, 2014


Why does the military have a 'youth engagement' policy and why is the government promoting 'military ethos' within education? What is the impact of military activities taking place in schools? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

The film focuses on military activities in schools, including presentations and other visits by the armed forces and the Department for Education's 'Military Ethos in Schools' policy - as well as community cadet forces. It looks at young people's experiences and views and ask questions about 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.

This film will encourage young people to reflect on and debate military-related activities aimed at them.


other resources on military in schools

Written evidence submitted by ForcesWatch to the Education Committee's Alternative Provision Inquiry

This submission briefly outlines 'alternative provision with a military ethos' and details a number of concerns - relative effectiveness, targeting disadvantage, lack of consultation and lack of scrutiny.


A short film from the Take Action on Militarism event


Also see the 5 minute film with speakers from the event about their work taking action on militarism.



The Unseen March - short film made by Quakers in Britain with former SAS Ben Griffin, activist Mark Thomas and educationalists on ‘military ethos’ in schools.

Step by step, a military presence is entering schools across Britain. This is part of a conscious strategy to increase support for the armed forces in the wake of unpopular wars. Quakers in Britain have produced The Unseen March, a short film to start a public debate about the militarisation of education.

There are also briefings, resources and action ideas to accompany the film


by David Aldridge, Principal Lecturer, Philosophy of Education, Oxford Brookes University


Each year a national day of commemoration of the war dead is celebrated on 11th November in the United Kingdom. Despite public controversy about the nature and purpose of remembrance, there has been no significant discussion of the role schools should play in this event. In this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, with the government planning to send groups from every secondary school in Britain to tour the battlefields of the western front over the next four years, the question of how war should be remembered in schools is more pressing than ever.

In this bold and rigorous pamphlet, David Aldridge takes a hard look at the reasons usually advanced for involving children and young people in commemorating the war dead, and finds many of them wanting. He critically examines the high profile in schools of charities, like the Royal British Legion, with vested interests in certain kinds of commemoration. And he argues forcefully for a justification of remembrance in schools that requires a major rethink of established rituals and practices.

This is a compelling treatment of a topic high on the agenda of teachers and education policy-makers and will be an invaluable resource for anyone involved in planning centenary commemorative events for children and young people.


David Gee

in Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It, War Resisters International, 2013

Military recruitment is deeply embedded in the class and economic structures of society. Its methods, thriving on hyper-masculine fantasies of soldiering and, in consumer-capitalist societies in particular, a creeping estrangement from our most humane values, can be understood as a form of human alienation. Even so, despite the continuing success of military recruitment worldwide, it is still perhaps the Achilles heel of militarism. War depends on large numbers of people agreeing to participate in mass killing. If we can work well with young people, their parents, educators and the media, so that equally large numbers pause to reflect on what soldiers are expected to do and why, cracks might open in militarism from the bottom up.


Emma Sangster

in Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It, War Resisters International, 2013

The armed forces are increasingly being provided with access to young people within the UK education system – mainly at secondary and further education level but also within universities and even primary schools. In addition to armed forces presentations and other visits to schools and colleges which have been going on for many years, there is a new push to make 'military ethos and skills' a part of school life.

To understand what is driving these practices and policies it is important to look at the wider dynamics between the armed forces and civil society. This article looks briefly at recent initiatives and developments that reflect a new and concerted effort to see the military play a larger role in civil society.


This research published in 2010 has found that the army visited 40% of London schools from September 2008 to April 2009 and disproportionately visits schools in the most disadvantaged areas. The researchers conclude that, “the army's recruitment activities in schools risk jeopardising the rights and future welfare of the young people contacted. 

Before You Sign Up has a useful page on Recruiting in schools and colleges. This website also has a lesson plan devised for Citizenship Key Stage 4. The learning outcomes are: an outline understanding of life as a soldier, including the pros and cons; understand and speak about ethical issues involved in recruiting young people from age 16 into the armed forces; ability to deconstruct a TV advertisement; and, bring critical awareness to an important social issue. 

If you want to join the Army make sure you know ALL the facts before you sign up.Don’t find out the hard way!

Information from AT EASE for young people and to be given to young people.

Ask your MP to support raising the age of recruitment

Scottish Parliament Petition

ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament to:

  • scrutinise armed forces visits to schools in Scotland
  • provide guidance on how such visits should be conducted
  • ensure that parents are always consulted.

The petition is now being heard by the Scottish Parliament. See more info.

military & education discussion list

Watch our new film - Engage: the military and young people

Why does the military have a 'youth engagement' policy and why is the government promoting 'military ethos' within education? What is the impact of military activities taking place in schools? This short film explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

See film and more info. With Welsh subtitles

relevant on YouTube

other news on military in schools

08/11/2017 STV

Scottish TV report on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland.

26/09/2017 The Conversation

This article by Jonathan Parry. Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, explores the dangers involved in miltary activity in schools and for the youngest recruits. It emphasises the moral risks and the 'moral exploitation' involved.

04/07/2017 BBC News

BBC Panorama has uncovered evidence of repeated cover-ups of historical sex abuse in Britain's cadet forces.

23/01/2017 The Independent

The UK is one of few countries that allow minors to enlist. Despite calls to cease the recruitment of under-18s the Army is digging in to hold its ground.

23/01/2017 Bella Caledonia

The new British Army advert is astonishing. Organised violence as antidote to anomie.

Ask your MP to sign an Early Day Motion on The Recruitment of Minors into the UK Armed Forces. If you are in Scotland, ask your MSP to sign a similar motion on the Medact Report on British Armed Forces Recruitment.

22/11/2016 various

Coverage highlights the Scottish Children's Commissioner concerns about the age of recruitment and armed forces visits to schools, and the motion in the Scottish Parliament about the vulnerabilities of young recruits, as discussed in the recent Medact report.

17/10/2016 Various

The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, choose the Conservative Party conference to announce the next phase of the Cadet Expansion Programme with 25 new cadet units being set up in state schools.

16/09/2016 various

On Thursday 15 September, ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland went to the Scottish Parliament to give evidence to the Public Petitions Committee about armed forces visits to schools.

30/08/2016 The Guardian

Britain is the only EU country to enlist 16-year-olds into the armed services and, say objectors, it starts with access to the classroom.

26/06/2016 Schools Week

A third of a £6 million funding pot aimed at building character in school pupils will be targeted at military-style projects, prompting criticism from campaigners.

11/06/2016 Schools Week

The impact of a £50 million grant to boost school cadet forces cannot be scrutinised because the government will not release details – although there are few signs of the 100 units a year needed to meet the ambitious target and new figures show a decline in number of school cadets. ForcesWatch are quoted: “This huge amount of money could have been allocated towards educational resources that do not have a military framework and would have far wider appeal.”

30/03/2016 Independent, various
10/03/2016 Bella Caledonia

Mairi Campbell-Jack of Quakers in Scotland writes about why armed forces activities in schools is an issue that Scotland should be dealing with and the petition to the Scottish Government launched by Quakers and ForcesWatch.

08/03/2016 The National

By Michael Gray

How, despite our rigged economy, can schools prepare young people for the financial and moral dilemmas they will face in employment? How can we transition from a society too complacent about war towards a country that strives for peace?

24/01/2016 Sunday Herald

MSPs are being urged to hold an inquiry into the presence of the armed forces in Scotland’s schools after an outcry over plans to set up cadet units aimed at the poorest pupils.

22/01/2016 TES, Hansard

A controversial scheme to turn former military personnel into teachers has trained just a sixth of its target number of veterans during the first two years.

06/01/2016 SUNY Courtland ; The Guardian

Extracts from a short article on the need for critical thinking teaching in schools, and examples of this being put into practice in the UK.

06/01/2016 Hansard

The MoD recently acknowledged that the RAF's Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) road show in schools - run in partnership with the weapons company BAE Systems - is 'recruitment'.

06/01/2016 3thehardwaypoets.wordpress.com

Video of the poet Lydia Towsey performing her new spoken-word poem, 'Daisy', which criticises the UK military's influence in schools.