Even though Tony Ransley raised the issue we’ve been slow in picking up on the government’s intention, announced at its early October conference, to fund 150 new cadet units for state schools, with the first 25 due to be launched in the next 12 months. To its credit the Green Party has stepped into the fray, calling on the Tories to stop expanding cadet units and to raise the minimum recruitment age for the military to 18. Its opposition has been prompted by a report, The Recruitment of Children by the UK Armed Forces : A Critique from Health Professionals, produced by Medact.
In this report, we set out the health case for banning the recruitment of children into the UK armed forces, and raising the minimum recruitment age to at least 18 years with immediate effect. Our case is broadly based on two main concerns:
First: Those recruited into the armed forces as children have a greater chance of being deployed on the frontline and suffering from long-term physical and mental health problems when compared to those recruited as adults.
Second: The current practices of the UK armed forces for recruiting children do not meet the criteria for ‘voluntary and informed consent’.
For my part the strong case the authors make is over-reliant on a particular cognitive, ‘neuro-scientific’ interpretation of adolescence, but this does not detract from their conclusion that 16- and 17-year-olds are more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, death, self-harm and substance abuse during an armed forces career compared with adult recruits or that the recruitment marketing approach is designed to portrays military life as glamorous, falling short of a true picture of life in the forces.
Coming from a sociological rather than medical perspective Janet Batsleer’s important, Youth Work and the Military Ethos, develops a complementary concern about the militarisation of work with young people and its deep contradictions. “The general discourse of moral elevation and virtue associated with the military cannot be sustained in the face of evidence concerning the actual mixed experience of military life ……. the levels of rape (one a week) and sexual assault reported within the services.”
It is worth reminding ourselves of the rationale set out on the DfE web site in 2014.
• Our ambition is for pupils to use the benefits of a military ethos, such as self-discipline
and teamwork, to achieve an excellent education which will help them shape their own
• Promoting military ethos in schools helps foster confidence, self-discipline and self esteem whilst developing teamwork and leadership skills. Past experience from both the
military and education sector has demonstrated how these core values help pupils to
reach their academic potential and become well-rounded and accomplished adults fully
prepared for life beyond school.
• We are already working to bring military ethos into our education system to help raise
standards and tackle issues such as behaviour. This includes:
• Expansion of the school-based cadets to create around 100 more units by 2015.
• Delivering the Troops to Teachers programme, which aims to increase the number of
Service Leavers making the transition to teaching.
• Promoting alternative provision with a military ethos.
In criticising and resisting this military push Janet seeks to draw on the tradition of democratic education, including youth work and informal education, arguing for a response, which “will include an engagement with ideas of international voluntary service as a completely different practice from military service. ‘Service Civile’ was introduced in many European countries after the Second World War as a peace-making alternative to national military service. We need to emphasise again global connections in our practice and to strengthen emphasis on the disciplines and virtues involved in co-operation. Democratic informal education traditions cherish questioning and critical enquiry, even dissent. And dissent requires character, organisation and discipline, but dissident associations which can offer alternatives to the present denigration and abandonment of young people are not likely to have a ‘military ethos.’ Militarised culture has many attractions, but these attractions, including adventure, challenge and team-building have long been part of alternative co-operative education traditions too. The Woodcraft Folk movement still uses the outdoors and camping as an important vehicle for learning co-operation and for building the international co-operative movement for summer camps.”
And in pursuing this argument I wonder how critical friends like Tony Ransley from the Scouts understand the Cadets initiative.and its relationship to what we often refer to as ‘the uniformed youth organisations’. If I’m remembering correctly Baden-Powell was resolutely against the use of military drills in the Boy Scouts.