#whitefeather diaries

Armed forces recruitment in schools

9 March 2016

During World War I Quakers challenged the idea that children should do military drill at school. The legal age of recruitment during WWI was 18, although many joined underage. Young people may now sign up at 16, with parental permission, leading many to fear that armed forces visits to schools are designed to start the process of recruitment. Moves by the government to expand cadet forces into more schools and to increase visits to schools by the armed forces has led some to question this. Part of the problem is the lack of information about these visits.

Mairi Campbell-Jack, Scottish Parliamentary Engagement Officer for Quakers in Britain, shares some of her work on increasing transparency around armed forces recruitment in schools in Scotland.

Over the past year there has been a huge amount of work done in Scotland around militarisation, specifically militarisation in schools. A Scottish Quaker who had been a conscientious objector during World War II originally raised the concern. Armed forces visits to schools lay the groundwork for future recruitment of children. With parental permission, it is possible to start the formal process of recruitment at 15 years old, although no one would officially join the forces until their 16th birthday. There is evidence that the younger someone joins up the less positive their outcomes are both while in the forces, and when they leave. 

I’ve mainly worked with colleagues in ForcesWatch. We submitted a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Defence to get a more accurate and up-to-date picture of what has been happening across the country. The data shows a significant increase in visits since 2003; figures for 2014–15 suggest between 500–600 armed forces visits to secondary level schools and colleges across Scotland. But there have also been large gaps in information.

In some cases the gaps reflect a change from paper to computerised record keeping, a change in personnel which means current staff can only work off previous notes, or a change in definitions which has led to inconsistent statistics. While all of these are the sort of problems that often plague old and large organisations it makes it much more difficult for the public to know what is really happening either in their local area or across Scotland.

Militarisation in the classroom

Individual Quakers in Scotland have also been writing to their local authorities to express their concerns about militarisation in the classroom. It’s clear from the answers that while some councillors are prepared to consider the matter seriously, others deny there is any militarisation while listing numerous activities the armed forces undertake in their education area. 

There is not a full understanding of what militarism means in wider Scottish society. Often when the issue is raised it can be unhelpfully framed as a pro-army, anti-army argument, which does not reflect the nuances of the issue, especially when children become involved. There is some work to do in opening up this debate and providing people with information.

Petition on armed forces visits

The Welsh Assembly recently reported on a petition aimed at preventing armed forces recruitment in Welsh schools. ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland have lodged a similar petition in The Scottish Parliament. We’re calling for the Education Committee to undertake a similar investigation to that of their counterparts in Wales. The petition calls for:

  • Recruitment to be recognised as a process rather than an event;
  • More transparency and proper recording of armed forces visits to schools that accessible by the public;
  • More clarity and guidance for local authorities and schools on providing political balance in the classroom;
  • Notification of parents/guardians prior to armed forces visits, and permission sought for their children’s participation in activities.

The petition is currently open for signatures. You don’t have to be Scottish to sign it so if you agree with it please do sign and share within your networks. We expect it to go before the Public Petitions Committee after the Holyrood election on 5 May and will keep you informed of progress.

Quaker work for peace today includes promoting peace education in schools. Find out more about Quaker work for peace today at www.quaker.org.uk/peace and about Scottish advocacy work at www.quakerscotland.org/our-work.

We’ll explore the work of ForcesWatch in more depth later this week.

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