The British Army recruits soldiers at age 16, although children can begin the application process at age 15. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit child soldiers. Each town in the UK has a cadet force which teaches children how to handle firearms, shoot, march and so on. The British Army website has a children’s section called ‘The camouflage’ aimed at 14-16 year olds, which includes features like a target shooting game and information about the army’s weaponry (The Guardian, 2013). Militarism permeates all areas of life for young people in the UK, including education (Bourke, 2014).
The British military is deeply embedded within the different scales of the British school system. All branches of the armed forces regularly visit secondary schools in the UK. The army sponsors the combined cadet force (CCF) which is present in all of the private schools in the UK and is designed to produce the next generation of officers. On top of this, a thriving new further education sector of ‘military preparation colleges’ has recently emerged across England and Wales, offering ‘employability’ and ‘motivation’ for 16-19 year olds. The recent neo-liberal education reforms of the Conservative Government included a ‘Troops to Teachers’ initiative which was designed to fast track ‘battle hardened’ troops from the front lines of Afghanistan into classrooms to ‘improve discipline and tackle yobs’ (Evening Standard, 2010).
Pacifist groups like Forces Watch allege that the military deliberately and cynically targets its recruitment drives at schools in the most deprived parts of the UK, exploiting the lack of opportunities which exist for young people in these areas, perpetuating a system of ‘economic conscription’. Yet the term ‘recruitment’ is contested by the military. They argue that visits to schools do not constitute recruitment, and that these visits merely providing children with information and insights about military life without actively encouraging children to join or starting formal recruitment proceedings. Moreover, the army claim they are actively invited to schools by head teachers.
Wales has always been one of the most deprived parts of the UK, and has traditionally provided the British armed forces with a disproportionate number of personnel relative to the size of the country. Between September 2009 and May 2012, 88% of secondary schools in Wales were visited by the army (Forces Watch, 2015). On average, schools were visited 6 times during this period, although some were visited as many as 22 times. In 2012, Wales received 6.6% of the UK total school visits by the armed forces, despite comprising just 4.8% of the UK’s population. Similarly, in 2006-7 “the Army’s ‘outreach programme’ for 9-12 year-olds…saw 984 activities take place in Wales out of a total of 7000 - slightly more (7.1%) than Wales’ proportion of the UK population” (Forces Watch, 2015). Within Wales, schools in the most deprived wards are far more likely to be visited by the armed forces than affluent areas.
Is the Welsh education system militarized? This paper examines the relationship between the military and the Welsh education system and the impact this has on children.
Informed by critical theory and critical military studies, it also draws attention to the important relationship between militarism and local place (Tannock et al, 2013) and the role of ‘local military cultures’ in normalizing the armed forces as a career for young people in particular areas and in normalizing the presence of the military within local education systems. It explores the role of teachers and educational leadership in mediating these local military cultures. The paper holds important lessons on the role of militarization within education for other countries in Europe.
Basham, V, Belkin, A & Gifkins, J (2015) ‘What is Critical Military Studies?’ Critical Military Studies 1:1, pages 1-2. Bourke, J (2014) Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invade Our Lives. Virago Tannock, S., Burgess, S., and Moss, K. (2013), ‘Military recruitment, Work & culture in the South Wales Valleys: A local geography of contemporary British militarism’, Working paper, Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) available online at http://www.wiserd.ac.uk/files/3613/8019/7095/WISERD_WPS_009.pdf Forces Watch (2015) ‘Concerns About Armed Forces Visits To Secondary Schools In Wales, In The Context Of The Welsh Assembly’s Current Examination Of The Issue’ Briefing Paper to Welsh Assembly Government. Available online at http://forceswatch.net/sites/default/files/Concerns_armed_forces_visits_secondary_schools_Wales.pdf Hickman, Leo (2013) ‘Why do the British armed forces still allow 16-year-olds to enlist?’ The Guardian, Tues 23rd April available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/shortcuts/2013/apr/23/british-armed-forces-16-year-olds The Evening Standard (London) (2010) ‘Attention! Troops in the classroom under Michael Gove schools shake-up’ Wed 24th November. Available online at: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/attention-troops-in-the-classroom-under-michael-gove-schools-shake-up-6539544.html
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