Since 2012, military involvement in British school education has increased at an alarming rate.
A 'Military Ethos'
The UK government has spent over £45million on projects operating with a "military ethos" in schools in England. These include the use of outside companies such as Commando Joe's and the UK Mliitary School, often staffed by ex-forces personnel, to run programmes in schools. 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.
However, it is perhaps no surprise that schools might turn to such schemes when so many other educational services and youth organisations are facing large cuts.
The Cadet Expansion Programme
The same situation has aided the Cadet Expansion Programme, based on the UK government's determination to increase the number of cadet forces in state schools across the UK. In 2012, ministers launched the Cadet Expansion Programme and by 2016 the number of state school cadet forces had more than doubled. In 2015, the government promised an extra £50million to increase the number of such forces to 500 by 2020. They achieved this target. In April 2021, UK ministers put another £1.1 million into existing cadet units in schools England.
The Combined Cadet Forces say explicitly that "the current phase of expansion running up to 2020 has a more targeted approach, with priority given to those in less affluent areas". With other youth services facing cuts while millions are poured into cadet forces, we are moving towards a situation in which the cadets are the only option for more and more young people.
The new state school cadet forces include the first in Wales, as well as cadet forces working with state school in Scotland, despite the Scottish government's policy of opposing cadet forces in schools.
Armed forces' school visits
Military visits to schools have also risen in recent years, although there is a lack of precise figures because the government and armed forces do not produce detailed information on such visits. However, 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.
The armed forces like to say that such activities are not about recruitment, because they don't literally sign up young people then and there. However, 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 visited 420 schools in the UK in the last year alone, with their materials used by children as young as seven. BAE say they have 845 "ambassadors" in schools. These appear to be mostly school governors, suggesting that the company effectively has people lobbying for its interests at the heart of hundreds of schools.
But 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.
Two types of recruitment
The Ministry of Defence gave the truth away in their Youth Engagement Review in 2011. They stated outright that the armed forces' engagment 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.