Are you with the force?

22nd August 2008 at 01:00
Teachers are divided on inviting the services to make presentations to pupils

The majority of teachers do not object to the presence of the Armed Forces in schools, a poll has found. Just over half (53 per cent) of teachers disagreed with calls to ban military recruitment presentations to pupils.

The poll, carried out by Select Education, has been published as the debate surrounding the military influence in schools has come to a head, with demands from both ends of the political spectrum for an increased take-up of Army, Navy, RAF and combined cadet forces in state schools.

One teacher said that the military offered another chance to those failed by an education system with a "middle-class bias".

Others said that the promotion of military careers was essential to help young people find out about opportunities available to them.

However, 38 per cent of the respondents disagreed, complaining that Armed Forces visits amounted to propaganda, did not show the realities of war, exploited schools' good relationships with pupils and targeted vulnerable teenagers.

The Ministry of Defence said that teams from the services visited about 1,000 schools in the UK each year. It insisted they only did so after being invited by headteachers.

Campaigners claimed the ministry was desperate to find recruits for unpopular conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and employed underhand techniques to promote military careers as sexy and exciting.

At its annual conference in March, the National Union of Teachers criticised Defence Dynamics, a website of lesson resources with military themes, and said sections of it contained pro-war propaganda.

The MoD claimed that the site has had 2.3 million hits and 9,000 downloads from teachers since its launch in November - illustrating a degree of support for its contents.

Some teachers have expressed growing support for an increasing "militarisation" of education. Anthony Seldon, headteacher of Wellington College in Berkshire, called for the reintroduction of daily physical drills to bring discipline and focus to pupils.

Gordon Brown has voiced hopes to expand cadet groups into more state schools; teaching union Voice backed his suggestion last month.

DEBATE

Should the military be allowed in schools?

Yes

Says Debbie Coslett, co-head of The Hayesbrook School, a boys' secondary modern in Tonbridge, Kent

"I don't have a problem with inviting them in at all, and this year we had the Army in.

"We invite lots of companies in to talk about careers and I have no reason to exclude the Armed Forces. We are a boys' school, so the police and fire departments are always appealing. But we always do it as part of a wider careers day.

"I think it is an absolute load of rubbish to suggest that they are targeting young people with propaganda and glamorising it because they need more troops for wars.

"They explain what qualifications are needed for all the career paths from squaddie to officer."

No

Says Alasdair Smith, history teacher at a north London comprehensive

"Pupils can come away with a glossy story of gaining a skill and travelling the world and I don't think a school is the place for that. I would rather they didn't come in at all.

"Ultimately, the real role of people in the military is to kill. It doesn't matter how much you gloss over it with talk of careers and skills. You can be the most marvellous engineer in the world, but you can still be sent to Afghanistan or Iraq and come back with no limbs.

"I have a former pupil in the Army. He's enthusiastic about it, but he hasn't been sent to Afghanistan yet.

"As a history teacher, I teach about war a lot of the time, but I present the realities of it."

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