Armed forces recruiting in schools?

29 September 2015

Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Tomorrow (30 September), the Assembly will debate the Petitions Committee’s report, Stop the Army Recruiting in Schools (pdf 504KB).

This is a picture of British forces in Afghanistan.

Image from Flickr by Royal Army Sergeant Andy Cole. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Concerns about the armed forces recruiting in schools and particularly in areas of deprivation have been raised previously. For example:

The Petitions Committee first considered the petition from Cymdeithas y Cymod (Fellowship of Reconciliation) during 2012. The petition received 374 signatures with a further 700 in an associated off-line petition. The petition asked that the Welsh Government should be urged to recommend that the armed forces should not go into schools to recruit. The Petitioners claimed that:

  • Britain is the only country in the European Union that allows a military presence in its schools;
  • Britain is the only country of the 27 European Union countries to recruit 16-year-olds;
  • The armed forces target their recruitment in schools in the most deprived areas of Wales.

The Committee heard oral evidence from the Petitioners, Forces Watch, Ban Schoolyard Recruitment (pdf 510KB) and Prestatyn High School (pdf 682KB) as well as undertaking a written consultation.

Careers advice or recruitment?

The Petitioners suggested that the armed forces go into schools in order to recruit. They also argued that when the armed forces work in schools, they do not provide balanced and accurate careers advice because they do not talk about the right to leave, the period of service, or the extent of the risk of injury or death.

In oral evidence, the Committee heard from the Petitioners and Forces Watch that while the armed forces’ work in schools may be considered as ‘promotion’ this may lead to recruitment – while pupils are not signed up in school, this is all part of the process. However, it was not possible to say whether the forces’ work in schools led to increased recruitment.

The Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans wrote to the Committee reiterating that the armed forces do not recruit in schools and only attend schools at the invitation of the schools themselves. A sample (of 303 schools) survey taken between June and July 2013 found that 74 per cent of schools believed that the Army provided impartial careers advice. Sixty-one per cent of those who thought that the Army may not be impartial felt they would still invite the Army to provide careers presentations.

Pupils and staff at Prestatyn High School felt that the armed forces should present a realistic view of a career in the forces and should not glamorise the job but that teenagers are able to determine for themselves the pros and cons of such a career. They also suggested that a career in the forces can be helpful in getting qualifications. The Committee also heard that the while the army is willing and keen to work with schools, it can be more difficult to bring other business or public services into schools to offer careers advice. It was apparent Guidance on who should come in to promote their career choices would be helpful.

The Committee heard the view from the Ministry of Defence that it is not possible to sign up for the Armed Forces outside of a recruitment office. Recruitment into the UK Armed Forces is voluntary and no young person under the age of 18 years can join the Armed Forces unless their application is accompanied by the formal written consent of their parent or guardian.

Responses to the Committee’s consultation suggested that the Armed Forces should have the same right to provide careers advice as other organisations and it would be discriminatory to restrict the Armed Forces from providing such advice.

Targeted at areas of deprivation?

The Petitioners and Forces Watch believe that the Armed Forces specifically target their efforts on areas of deprivation. Forces Watch’s response (pdf 286KB) to the Petitions Committee report (August 2015) says that more state secondary schools than independent schools are visited and that schools in Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot, Swansea and Rhondda Cynon Taf are visited far more than other areas. However, in their consultation response, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council said that locally there was no evidence that the armed forces target their activities in schools in more deprived areas.

The Committee’s view

Some Members of the Committee shared the concerns that the armed forces use school visits as a recruitment tool and that their visits are targeted at areas of relatively high deprivation. However, there was no compelling evidence that shows the armed forces deliberately target schools in these areas. The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should consider whether further research is needed into the reasons for the apparently disproportionate number of visits to schools in areas of relatively high deprivation. The Welsh Government said (pdf 137KB) that they did not believe the Committee’s findings are sufficient to undertake further research urgently. School engagement with, and visits from, the armed forces can be looked at as part of the roll out of the Enhanced Employer Engagement project.

The Committee concluded that while the armed forces may present themselves as providing interesting and accessible career opportunities, evidence suggested that they are not actively recruiting in schools. But it was clear that schools would welcome further guidance on inviting the armed forces into schools to ensure that visits are balanced and appropriate. The Committee recommended that the Careers and the World of Work Curriculum Framework was reviewed to ensure that guidance in relation to inviting the armed forces into schools takes account of their unique nature as a career. The Committee also recommended that further consideration be given to how schools, businesses and employers can best be supported to ensure that a diverse range of businesses and employers visit schools to provide pupils with information about the career opportunities they offer. The Welsh Government accepted both these recommendations.

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