By Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg and Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy
We are all incredibly proud of the work our Armed Forces do in keeping us safe at home and abroad. They are central to our national character, just as they are to our national security. The ethos and values of the Services can be significant not just on the battlefield but across our society, including in schools.
Veterans and reservists can be great role models. The values of responsibility, comradeship, hard work and a respect for public service are embodied in our Armed Forces. The “Service ethos” emphasises the importance of character formation and high ethical standards, as well as the development of crucial skills such as team-working. Labour wants to see more opportunities for young people to benefit from these attributes and our Policy Review is looking at innovative ways to achieve this. There are a wide range of ways this could be done, from widening access to schemes like cadet forces and mentoring, to creating new schools with service specialisms where there is demand.
We are looking at the benefits of a cadre of Armed Services mentors, mainly veterans and reservists, to work closely with those in need of guidance and support. Reservists use civilian skills to support the military and the reverse should also be true.
We would also like to see more young people from state schools joining the cadets. At the end of the last school year, there were 257 Combined Cadet Force contingents in UK schools, of which 196 were in private schools. So while private schools only account for 8 per cent of all schools they have 76 per cent of the cadet forces. We would like to see the proportion in state schools increase and would support greater partnering between schools which have a cadet force and state schools which don’t, but want one.
There is good evidence of the benefits. Research from the University of Southampton suggests that “cadets tend to have high levels of respect for authority and others, and high levels of self-esteem. They are likely to be committed citizens and have heightened aspirations.”
Our Policy Review is also examining the case for a number of specialist “Service Schools” where parents and communities want them. They could employ ex-Forces personnel as qualified teachers, offer mentoring support, have a cadet force on site and offer adventurous outdoor training. They could use their autonomy to develop specialisms in areas such as international affairs, history or physical education. There are already good examples of success. The Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Dover specialises in science, sport, physical and outdoor education, and is trialling a BTEC qualification in Military Music. Results are impressive: pupils do twice as well as the national average at GCSE, including in English and Maths.
Of course, new or existing state schools of all types could take advantage of these specialisms, but we think there would be an opportunity for specialist Service Schools to be established as academies and benefit from appropriate external sponsors, working in partnership with the Armed Forces, the Reserve Forces and Cadets’ Associations and Service charities. Labour’s academies programme always had a strong focus on bringing in external “sponsors” to support a school financially and with renewed leadership and expertise. By contrast, the Government has focused on converting schools without bringing in an outside sponsor.
Making the most of the expertise that exists within our Armed Forces can not only give young people opportunities to learn from service people’s many transferable talents, but also a greater awareness of the Forces and their values.
A recent report by the think tank ResPublica outlined how offering young people opportunities to learn from the ethos of the Forces could help tackle disadvantage and even promote social mobility, a goal central to Labour’s philosophy. We would expect specialist Service Schools to be particularly popular in communities with the greatest social and economic need, which have never had the same range of educational opportunities as more affluent areas.
These plans would also provide new career opportunities and skills for those leaving the Forces at a time when many are entering a strained jobs market.
All of these measures would aim to better integrate military and civilian communities and families, ensuring there is mutual support before and after military service, and that our troops can continue to make an enormous contribution to our country away from the frontline. The Government has spoken about making more of the military in education, but its programmes are either yet to deliver or have lapsed into populist, disciplinarian sentiment. Our plans are not about creating “boot camps”, nor are they about recruitment. Rather, we want to provide life-changing skills in areas such as leadership and teamwork to give more young people the chance to benefit from the unique resources of our Services.
When it comes to schools, it is clear that our Armed Services can be a force for good.
This article was originally published in the Telegraph.