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Militarising Young People

In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in military engagement with young people 

  • “Military Ethos” programmes: since 2012, the UK government has spent over £45 million on these projects, which include the use of outside companies such as Commando Joe's and the UK Military School, often staffed by ex-forces personnel. They are often aimed at “disengaged” young people in schools in poorer areas. The patronising idea that poorer young people need military discipline is rejected by the many teachers who say that young people need well-funded, well-resourced and professional education instead. 
  • Cadet Expansion Programme: by 2016 the number of state school cadet forces in the UK as a whole had more than doubled. There are currently over 500 cadet forces in secondary schools across the country. The government are aiming to further increase the number of cadets in schools to 60,000 by 2024. 
  • Military visits to schools: researchers found that the armed forces visited 68% of state schools in Scotland between April 2016 and March 2017. Research in London a few years earlier made it obvious that schools in poorer areas were much more likely to be targeted for military visits. School visits frequently involve information on jobs in the armed forces, often presented in glamorised ways with little questioning.
  • Arms dealers in the classroom: arms companies such as BAE Systems are increasingly running programmes in schools, often in the guise of promoting interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Research published in 2018 revealed the extent of the arms industry's involvement in British schools. 213,000 young people have seen a roadshow run by the arms company BAE Systems since 2005. BAE visits more than 420 schools in the UK every year, with their materials used by children as young as seven. While schools in the UK are presented with a positive image of BAE Systems, schools in Yemen have been bombed by the Saudi forces that BAE supplies. Other major arms companies involved in activities for schools and children include Raytheon, Rolls-Royce and MBDA. 
  • Community youth organisations: in August 2018, Girlguiding UK announced a new partnership with the army. This marks a backwards step following Girlguiding UK's increased focus on peace and human rights in recent years. There was strong criticism from current and former Guides and Guide leaders, including a petition against the deal which attracted thousands of signatures.
    Girlguiding UK have declined to say how much funding is involved in this deal. It is unlikely that Girlguiding UK will be the last community organisation to be targeted by the armed forces in this way. 

The armed forces like to say that such activities are not about recruitment, but the Ministry of “Defence” gave the truth away in their Youth Engagement Review in 2011. They stated outright that the armed forces' engagement with young people should lead to two outcomes:

“An awareness of the armed forces' role in the world... in order to ensure the continued support of the population; and recruitment of the young men and women that are key to future sustainment and success.” 

In other words, these activities involve two types of recruitment: they lead to a few people deciding to join the forces and they recruit a much larger number of people to a militarist mindset. 

We need a peaceful ethos, not a military ethos

The Peace Pledge Union believes that young people should be able to hear a range of views on war, peace and armed forces, including learning about alternatives to armed force. We want to see funding diverted to meaningful civilian-based education and youth services, so that young people can access educational and adventurous activities without signing up to a military organisation. 

We work with school students, teachers and parents who share these aims. We are currently planning new resources and training events to support people who want to challenge everyday militarism, whether in schools or elsewhere. If you're a school student, teacher or parent, and would like support in resisting militarism and promoting nonviolence in schools, please email us at, call us on 020 7424 9444 or drop us a quick message.