Forces Watch criticises 'military ethos' for schools programme

By staff writers
December 16, 2014

Forces Watch, the organisation which examines and challenges military recruitment practices targeting 16 and 17 year olds, has commented on the government's Military Ethos in Schools programme.

On 7 December 2014, Michael Gove’s successor as Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, made her support for the Military Ethos in Schools programme clear by pledging a further £4.8 million to eight ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’ schemes. This follows previous funding between 2012 and 2014 that amounted to £8.2 million.

ForcesWatch has previously raised concerns over the funding of alternative provision with a military ethos, noting that by targeting those children who are most disadvantaged within society, these militarised initiatives may restrict children’s options, even channelling them into the armed forces. Furthermore, being co-ordinated by armed forces veterans, it is debatable to what extent alternative provision with a military ethos provides a balanced insight into life in the armed forces.

Implicit within alternative provision with a military ethos is the assumption that the ‘ethos’ of the armed forces makes veterans particularly qualified to develop young children and improve their life-chances. In reality, says Forces Watch, this assumption needs examination, especially when numerous claims of bullying, sexual harassment, and human rights abuses that are regularly levied against the armed forces are taken into consideration.

Whilst some armed forces veterans may make excellent mentors for students, these qualities are not conditional on their socialisation within the military and many civilians, in other public services for example, will possess similar qualities. Finally, Forces Watch questions whether tthis is really all about raising educational attainment. It asks if there wider agendas at work and if military-based activities appropriate within education.

Quakers in Britain have written an open letter setting out their concerns about the new announcement to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21145). Forces Watch have also defined key initial concerns. Their statement is as follows:

Lack of evidence to justify the extra funding

This recent round of funding is to be implemented on the basis of claims from the Department for Education that alternative provision with a military ethos "can have a positive impact in improving behaviour, attendance and resilience for the young people taking part allowing them to get the most out of school." However, there is little evidence to support this claim. Indeed, the independent TNS BMRB report commissioned by the DfE, and used to support this recent funding, acknowledges that their report "was not designed as, nor intended to be, a rigorous evaluation of the Military Ethos AP projects of the programme as a whole" Yet extraordinary financial resources are still being granted to schemes which offer military-based activities to those who are most disadvantaged within British society.

Claims regarding the positive impact of alternative provision with a military ethos are principally based on the monitoring and evaluation of information submitted by the six providers of military-based alternative provision who will directly benefit from this new round of funding. However, a report from the social research agency TNS BMRB acknowledges that the information submitted by these providers is subject to a litany of methodological, sampling and reporting errors. For example, those submitting information "were not required to evaluate their projects and few had any prior research experience or in-house expertise to draw upon in designing or conducting evaluations."

The report also states that, "The sample size (or number of pupils involved) in the evaluations undertaken was typically small, leading to concerns around the potential margin of error in reported impacts." In addition, it states that the "quality of questions asked by providers/evaluators was variable within and between organisations. There were instances of leading questions evident in feedback forms and open questions were not always asked of participating pupils."

The report also recognises that other factors could account for perceived improvements in attainment, attendance and behaviour. Notably, teachers acknowledged that a range of behavioural initiatives that were implemented concurrent to alternative provision with a military ethos could have accounted for improvements.

The report also asserts that alternative provision with a military ethos might not directly contribute to improved educational attainment:

"Projects were viewed as a means through which to support resilience, self-confidence and inter-personal skills, which were in turn assumed to have a beneficial impact on attainment. For the most challenging pupils, simply promoting their engagement in school was seen as a key outcome, regardless of whether the project then led to improvements in attainment or the achievement of additional qualifications. As such, any impact on attainment that was perceived or evidenced was seen to be indirect, resulting from changes to attendance, behavior or resilience."

It should be noted that a plethora of alternative provision schemes aim to install these qualities within children without resorting to military-style approaches. Indeed, Nicky Morgan's predecessor Michael Gove himself admitted, when championing the Military Ethos in Schools programme: "These qualities are of course not exclusive to the military. In the UK we have a strong tradition of youth uniformed organisations, such as the Girlguiding UK and the Scout Association, or St John’s ambulance and the Boys and Girls Brigades, who have an excellent track record of developing young people from a variety of backgrounds."

Conclusion

With these concerns raised by the independent report commissioned by the DfE regarding alternative education provision with a military ethos, why is it that substantial sums continue to be directed towards these projects? Are there other agendas, such as recruitment into the armed forces, and giving young people a long-term positive view of the armed forces, at play?

Nicky Morgan may have been ambivalent in her response to the recent Parliamentary question, "What can we do to ensure that local and national employers, particularly Her Majesty's armed forces, get access to schools?", but she clearly intends to continue the government's policy of getting representatives of the armed forces into schools, by whatever means.

This renewal of funding for alternative provision with a military ethos represents a worrying trend in which the Government is elevating the military as guardians of the future of Britain’s most disadvantaged children, despite the potential risks and harms this could expose these children to, and despite the considerable lack of evidence to support the notion that this type of alternative provision really is in their best interests.

* Read the TNS BRMB report here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...

* More about the work of Forces Watch here: http://www.forceswatch.net/projects

[Ekk/4]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.