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Recruiting in schools and colleges Print E-mail


Why do armed forces recruiters visit schools?

Every year the armed forces enlist around 20,000 new non-officer personnel; typically just over a quarter of these are aged under 18 (5,780 in 2008/09).

The Ministry of Defence argues that it could not meet the manning requirement of the armed forces, especially the army, if they could not recruit 16- and 17-year olds.  The armed forces must recruit young people as far as possible before they begin civilian employment, says the MoD, and therefore they need to recruit people straight from school.

Against this, the UK is the only European Union country to recruit 16-year-olds (it's possible to start the recritment process at age 15); the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the United Nations have called on the government to raise the minimum recruiting age.

Although armed forces visits to schools can serve several purposes, including education and public relations, most visits are by recruiters and are described by the Ministry of Defence youth policy as a 'powerful tool for facilitating recruitment...'

Which schools do the armed forces visit?

The armed forces visit all kinds of school.  However, military recruitment tends to flourish in neighbourhoods where there are fewer civilian career options and larger numbers of school leavers with few or no qualifications.  Evidence from London shows that army recruiters visit the poorest schools most often. The army may be one of the few employers in poorer communities for young people who have struggled at school.

The armed forces make about 8,500 visits to schools every year.  Just over half the state schools in London were visited in 2008-09.

Besides visiting schools directly, the armed forces also invite school groups for away-days at military sites.

What happens on a visit?

Young people in rifle drill

In armed forces visits to schools and colleges, students are presented with the potential benefits of joining the forces.  Although recruiters do not usually hide the down-sides of a military career if asked directly, the risks, difficulties and restrictive terms of service are not usually mentioned. Military jobs are glamorised, often by bringing military hardware into schools.

Schools visits might include a talk from a recently-enlisted young recruit recommending forces careers and emphasising the incidental perks such as free driving lessons for military trucks. Away-days at military establishments involve such activities as rifle drills and assault courses. School students are normally encouraged to join the army's recruitment programme aimed at 13-17 year-olds, Camouflage.  The RAF have a similar youth recruitment programme called Altitude.

Does it matter?

This type of contact with the military could help to broaden the career options of young people, generate debate and sharpen critical awareness of the issues.  Alternatively, it could lead young people to join the forces for the wrong reasons, unaware of the legal obligations that enlistment imposes upon them, the main physical and psychological risks and without having worked through the ethical issues involved.

Recruitment visits to poorer schools are of particular concern because those parts of the armed forces that face the greatest risks in Afghanistan (the infantry and marines) are also those that recruit youngest and from poorer communities.  The minimum required reading age of a new infantry recruit is 7, yet this new recruit is expected to have understood their legal obligations, worked through the ethical issues and assessed the risks and difficulties involved.

What do schools think?

Some schools welcome military recruiters on the premises so that students can find out more about the forces as a career option. Some believe that the recruiters' approach puts young people at risk. In March 2008, the National Union of Teachers voted to support the right of teachers 'not to take part in activities promoting military recruitment, or which they feel present a partisan view of war and life in the military'. The motion said that young people should be able to 'hear a speaker promoting alternative points of view' and to have 'education for peace embedded in the curriculum along with education about the military'.

In any case, the Education Act 1996 requires educational establishments to ensure that students 'are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views' when 'political issues' are introduced.

Should we let military recruiters into our school/college?

Schools and colleges can develop their own policies on whether to allow the military on the premises and, if so, on what terms.  Some questions to consider in formulating a policy might be:

  • Does a military visit help broaden students' options and their critical awareness of them?
  • Does a military visit open up debate or close it down?
  • Does a military visit mislead and manipulate or does it help important issues to get discussed?
  • Are students helped to work through the ethical issues or does a visit merely glamorise warfare?
  • How will students or teachers who have an ethical objection to warfare or military recruitment be accommodated?
  • Will students have a say in whether recruiters are invited?
  • Would visits by recruiters be balanced by visits from anti-war organisations?

What you can do

1. Print this article and share it with staff / the head / governors;

2. Propose the school develop a policy on whether to allow the military on the premises and, if so, on what terms;

3. Download the lesson plan for Key Stage 4 on the ethics of military recruitment

4. Promote in your school or college - free posters and credit-card-sized publicity cards are available (visit this page to order);

5. Ensure that education about warfare, military affairs, peacebuilding and other international issues always reflects a variety of representative points of view so that students can come to their own judgements.

5. If you are hosting a speaker from the military and want a balancing point of view, the following organisations are sometimes able to offer one:

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Last Updated on Saturday, 07 January 2012 18:04

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