Getting the Military out of our Schools

join20army1Many claim the UK armed forces provide legitimate, legal careers for children – others counter that this is against international standards and the recommendation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. However the career they provide is one fraught with dangers. Not only could there be the possibility of permanent disability or death, there is also the possibility of being complicit in the loss of other human’s lives. We should never underestimate the impact that has on someone. We know that the younger someone joins the worse their outcomes are. They are more likely to die, be disabled and suffer poor mental health. We also know veterans can experience addiction, become homeless and commit suicide. It is precisely because Quakers in Scotland, and Forces Watch, understand the risks involved in armed forces that we believe this institution, uniquely underpinned by violence, should be limited and carefully monitored when interacting with children within education, an institution focused on safety and growth to ensure that the visits are operating in the best interests of young people.

Recruitment agenda and visits to schools

There is ample evidence that the armed forces visits to schools are part of a recruitment agenda. In 2011 the MoDs Youth Engagement Review made it clear that their visits to schools “should have two clear outcome: An awareness of the armed forces role… and recruitment of young men and women…” In a 2007 document also stated that among other benefits of having access to schools “…In gross numerical terms the main driver is recruitment… There are many other reasons for visits but many of them have an implicit careers link.” These and other sources are detailed on the Force Watch website.

Over the last year Quakers in Scotland have teamed up with Forces Watch who have been working on this issue since 2012 and published this report on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland in 2014. This report revealed a high number of visits to state secondary schools in Scotland. We’ve used Freedom of Information requests to the MoD and Local Authorities in Scotland to find out what the current picture of visits across Scotland is. While we have received data we have concerns about its accuracy. There have been changes in personnel and recording methods and it seems that even the armed forces themselves aren’t fully aware of the extent of their own engagement with schools. One reason why one of the calls of our petition is for proper transparency and accountability in this area.

We did manage to find incidents of Navy career officers visits Primary Schools in Scotland – counter to the 2007 claim that the army does not recruit in Primary Schools. Since then anecdotal evidence has emerged that they have even turned up at nursery events with virtual weapons systems.

Colonel Allfrey, former head of recruitment for the whole of the UK armed forces said “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.” This shows that those at the head of the armed forces are aware of child’s natural inclination to curiosity, adventure and limited assessment of risk, and are willing to exploit that from a young age.

Comparability with other employers?

The armed forces counters arguments by saying that other comparable employers also attend schools. Other employers where staff may expect to be put at physical risk would be the emergency services. However the emergency service enter schools mainly to give safety information, not to recruit. Aside from carers day other employers rarely enter schools at all. It is important to remember due to its unique nature comparing the armed forces to other employers is not comparing like with like. There is no other employer like the armed forces – and there is no reason why their position should be privileged over other employers as was recognised by the Welsh Assembly and accepted by the Welsh Government.

Evidence we have collected show that many Local Authorities are not clear about the nature of armed forces visits to schools in their areas and are not adequately ensuring that students encounter opposing views and are not always consulting parents or guardians about visits. Several Government documents for both teachers, head teachers and guidance on employer relations all contain no reference to the armed forces. However there is a substantial body of evidence that shows pupils are not encountering a balanced view. Crucially, unlike England, there is no legal requirement for balance within Scottish schools.
While it is right that local authorities and schools make the majority of decision around the curriculum, as they are best placed to know what their pupils need, the overall quality of education and the experience of learners is a concern for the Scottish Government and specifically Education Scotland.

Vulnerable children

Of course the armed forces often gain access to schools under the guise of building “character”. As comedian Mark Thomas points out in the short film The Unseen March there is only one type of character the armed forces are interested in – one that follows orders. Other touted benefits of having the armed forces include discipline, team work and duty. This plays into a regressive view of children as feral things, when evidence points to a generation of children growing up who are excellent at making decision and many have plenty of self-discipline already.

It is important to remember that those children who find themselves in difficulties, for whatever reason, need a child-focused flexible approach which can speak to the multiple complexities in the lives of those falling behind their peers. Employment in the armed services does not immediately mean an individual can deliver the kind of approach our vulnerable children need. Fully trained youth workers can though, and there are many ways to support children through increased support for literacy, child mental health services and high quality child care which could do with the funding that armed forces receives for educational outreach.

It is right that as a society we are giving our children more of a voice, and encouraging them to become involved with decision making. Growing-up, like everything in devolved Scotland, is a process not an event. The last part of that process should be the ability to choose a career which could possibly result in the terrible finality of your own violent death.

Those who do not hold a similar view cast the whole debate in black and white, as though all taking part are either pro or anti-army. Society and political debate in Scotland has moved on from drawing a line in the sand and taking sides, and there is a need for us to utilise that higher level of nuance and sophistication to open up the real debate here. If all Jock Tamson’s bairns are going to get the best result then rather than taking arbitrary sides and dismissing concerns with platitudes about the “good job” the army does, having a discussion centred around the welfare of children is what is needed.

Of course, the easiest way to combat the recruitment of our children into the armed forces would be to follow the international standard and change the age of entry to eighteen. There is something uncomfortable about the way we decry child soldiers in other countries, yet tolerate and even defend them in our own. However, this is not a gift that Scotland has the power to give.

Limit access

The next best thing is to limit the access of the military to young people, especially where there is no evidence of balance. Our petition takes the first steps towards that by calling for transparency about these visits; information about their frequency accessible to all the public; that Local Authorities and schools are given clear guidance on the visits and; parents and guardians are always consulted. It will close for signatures on 20th March and Forces Watch will be holding events around Scotland where you can find out more.

Support the petition here: https://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/armedforcesvisitstoschools

Comments (10)

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  1. bill fraser says:

    All this can be investigated by children on leaving school,when they will have the opportunity to examine facts and benefits from a chosen career.There is no need to have school children brainwashed, when at an age when they can be easily tempted by faraway places and an supposedly exciting life.

  2. Ian Kirkwood says:

    The noble cause of fighting tyranny makes sense to idealistic youth (e.g. ISIL recruits), even at the risk of expending their own lives or mental health. 1939 saw thousands of volunteers queuing up to fight Hitler. Yet the soldiers of empires, such as that of Britain, were traditionally involved in the takeover and domination of other countries’ resources and rental surpluses. The ‘rent-seeking’ portion of the UK population back home benefitted from the acquisition by force of metal ores, slaves and so on.
    Children today have a chance to make judgements about all that, when they are exposed to the professionalism of our best teachers. That they may also have the opportunity to consider with open minds our country’s current military adventures and their consequences, such as for example, the current Blair-Bush refugee crisis, there is some hope that those choosing military careers know what they are getting into.
    In the past, the invasion and repression of weaker countries was the best way of rent-seekers acquiring wealth. British soldiers seemed to consider managing that an acceptable career. Whether they saw themselves as the instruments of the acquisitive class is doubtful. (How was education framed back then?) The last bastion of that strategy survives in the west’s oil wars. Today’s soldiers presumably ruminate like the rest of us on the UK’s recent military adventures…
    A safer route to riches for the top 1% in the nuclear age has been to target and dominate domestic wealth in the form of ‘economic rent’. The privatisation and complete domination of location rents succeeded in the UK. The process created an outcast population sector that today has no share in the nation’s surplus. Until Britain can escape this theft of its own socially generated surplus by the few, there will be no home-grown social pattern or proud Scottish achievement to look to that would help our children visualise the kind of overseas interventions that would improve the fortunes of people both at home and abroad.
    AGR, please.

  3. Laz says:

    Not a chance of me signing this garbage. Pacafism is becoming rife and is nigh time it stopped. H M Armed Forces become the best In the world for a reason, that is not recruting from schools, nor do they. Would you also like to stop the Police from visiting our schools No of course not. Put this petition away it’s not going anywhere, nor should it. This my view, you may have a differant one that is your right, a right so many laid their life down for you to have. I have utter Respect for them. For you I have none.

      1. John Page says:

        Thanks, Bella for making this valuable petition available…….I have now signed. I hope as Scotland changes we can drop the culture of glorifying our armed forces and glorious dead.
        We need to create our own future and cultural events and move on from Poppy Day and guy Fawkes etc etc.
        What about Mary Barbour Square (instead of George Sq.)? etc
        How about a Bella competition to suggest cultural events so that we and especially our young people progressively dump the events of the colonist’s calendar?
        John Page

  4. Walter Hamilton says:

    I was talking with a lad who as a teenager got into trouble, caught housebreaking, in court he asked for 26 other offences to be taken into consideration. He, I’m pleased to tell you is now a well respected and law abiding member of society. After telling his story I asked him the obvious question “why” and he told me it was nothing to do with wealth but it was for the exciting. This I sure was also the reason that I, like many young lads, joined the forces, but as Billy Connolly put it in the lyrics telling the story of a young man lying in his hospital bed, remembering the poster telling him about the sunshine and skiing as an army recruit, asked “Sergeant where’s mine?” If we can not give our young people an alternative life challenge, other than the army or breaking the law then maybe that says something about our society.

  5. Jim Alexander says:

    The SNP Government have the power to Control access to Schools from HM Armed Forces but they choose not to – could it be that they recognise the reality of those who sign up – they are normally poor – limited education and limited not a lot of options

    However SNP Policy is to be part of NATO – that means we would be committed to certain size and a certain standard of Armed Forces therefore we need to recruit by similar methods Indy or not.

    So lets stop pretending that this is a “British” issue and its the Fault of the UK Armed Forces – the same issue exists if we are independent

  6. JohnEdgar says:

    “Building character” is a misnomer. Armed forces can be described as a “necessary evil”. Defence and the need for defence is a requirement. It is how it is structured and brought into being. Combat personnel are taught to kill and to do that one is first “brutalised”. Then the officer class culture/subculture and that of the “oiks” leads to disfunction. There are fundamentally two facets of armed forces, defence and agents of offensive, so-called strategic policy in “spheres of interest” – the latter meaning aggressive foreign interventions – in our case using NATO as a fig leaf for intervention and toppling tyrants who doing as we are doing, but we are a “good thing” and they are a “bad thing.” Lastly, our military and government’s policy of making allies of tyrannical regimes “badder” than the ones we “oppose” makes a mockery of the supposed moral reasons for interventions using our defence capabilities.

  7. Chris Williams says:

    Hi, I’m against recruitment of children too, but are your numbers right?

    ww2 total UK war dead 264k military plus c. 60k civilians =320k

    total scottish war dead, 57k says this report:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-27299199

    you say:
    “In ww2 scots were a third of the UK’s dead”

    It’s more like a fifth: you could perhaps call it a quarter if you looked at military (and merchant navy) deaths alone, because the majority of civilian dead were from England. But I don’t see how you can get 1 in 3 out of this.

  8. Chris Williams says:

    Well, no reply to that. I’m getting increasingly worried about the tendency of political partisans on all points in the spectrum to throw out emotive facts without bothering to see if they are true or not.

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