Armed forces children need more attention

28th June 2013 at 01:00

The unsettled lives of armed forces children put them squarely within Scotland's broad definition of additional support needs. Yet only three out of 32 local authorities can say with conviction that they know how many service children are in their schools - let alone how to go about helping them.

Forces children can suffer the disruption of moving school many times before their childhood is over; they flit between countries and curricula, perhaps dropping back a year, sometimes staying only a few weeks in a school.

Often, parents will disappear on duty for months at time; even a phone call may be out of the question. That experience can produce the same sense of raging injustice as a death in the family: "I feel so angry I want to explode," said one boy in his early teens, in a film about service children in Scotland.

There's no doubt, then, that these children need a helping hand (and military parents need to be disabused of the notion that additional needs equate to learning difficulties). So kudos to Edinburgh, Highland and North Ayrshire, the only councils that could tell education directors body ADES they had a reliable database for tracking service children in their schools. Honourable mentions, too, for Fife and Midlothian, which at least indicated some sort of process for identifying these children.

Across most of Scotland, however, military families appear to be at risk of going under the radar.

There is good news: judging by a recent Stirling conference on the education of service children, the armed forces like Curriculum for Excellence and have been mightily impressed by commitments that the Scottish government has made to support the education of service children.

But in other ways, Scotland lags behind. English schools receive a #163;250 "service premium" for every child from a forces family; no such scheme exists in Scotland. It would come in handy at schools such as Edinburgh's Colinton Primary, where 87 per cent of children are from service families, or Kinloss Primary in Moray, where the transfer of the neighbouring former RAF base into army hands brought 94 new children at the start of this school year.

Things are not going to get easier. Scotland has done well out of the #163;12 million fund that the Ministry of Defence provided to offset the educational upheaval caused by drastic defence cuts. But that money will disappear after 2014, at which time Scotland will still be dealing with some of the biggest transfers of military personnel it has seen.

Leuchars Primary in Fife is next to another RAF base being taken over by the Army, but staff have no idea if the roll will soar or plummet as a result. As Kinloss Primary can tell them, the number of children heading their way may not become apparent until they start mustering at the school gates.

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