Army warned of private school bias

8th August 1997 at 01:00
A major has unsettled the military top brass by launching an Exocet against the British Army's independent school bias and entrenched snobbery.

It has winged its way down the colonnades of Whitehall under the unlikely cover of the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society.

In a pamphlet entitled Arms and the Man - Renewing the Armed Services Major Eric Joyce - educated at a comprehensive -analyses the Army recruitment crisis.

He depicts the British Army as little changed from the days of the Crimean War, with the overriding factor for promotion and success determined by which independent school entrants attended, rather than their ability.

In his 24-page broadside Major Joyce, an officer in the Army Training and Recruiting Agency, argues that a gaping social divide exists between soldiers and officers.

He claims a Victorian social structure leads to much wasted potential, with the "ranks" written off simply because of the school they attended and says that they have a glass ceiling placed over career prospects.

He urges: "We must forge new relationships with state schools, universities and recruiting services, and convince them through our actions that we believe that tomorrow's leaders are just as likely to be found in a college in Hackney as on the playing fields of Eton."

Change is all the more important, he says, as the Army is some 15,000 young people short of its target, while officer recruitment is set to go into an annual deficit of 15 per cent.

Major Joyce, who has been carpeted for his public criticisms, has upset senior Army officers with his views, which they feel are wide of the mark.

One Army source said: "He's a minor functionary and is entitled to his view but I don't know which army he's serving in.

"If you're good enough, the Army will take you. It's got sod all to do with whether you raise your little finger when you drink a cup of tea."

The Army claims that the latest figures for newly-trained officers prove Major Joyce's story wrong. Of those officers who completed their training in June, 325 came from state schools and 275 from independent schools.

For his part, Major Joyce suggests that 275 is a great over-representation. Only 7 per cent of the school population is educated privately. It appears, moreover, that four out of five officer-recruitment visits are made to schools in the private sector.

But at schools - both independent and state - with thriving cadet forces there is strong scepticism about the Major's views.

Brian Christian, deputy head at the private Giggleswick School in Settle, North Yorkshire, where 14-year-olds have the option of joining the Combined Cadet Force, said: "This is a very one-sided argument.

When the Army selects, it is simply looking for people who can achieve. I do not see any deliberate bias towards people from the independent sector. "

Vivian Anthony, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference of leading independent schools, said Major Joyce was "somewhat out of date in what he maintains.

"If it's true that more people get to the top from independent schools, then this reflects a good education and the sort of people they are."

Graham Stowell runs the cadet force at The Judd School, a boys' grammar in Tonbridge, Kent, which former Chief of Defence Staff Baron Lewin of Greenwich attended.

He said: "I don't see a problem with the Army, people move up on merit.

"But you don't expect a private to rise to general, that's why there's officer-entry."

Major Joyce, however, also claims the services have problems with gender and race which they have failed to tackle.

As the Government carries out its Strategic Defence Review, looking at the role of the services in the 21st century, he urges that the two-tier system of recruiting soldiers and officers be merged.

He suggests creating a fast-track officer option for young sergeants.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The views expressed are personal ones, they do not accord with those of the MoD or the Government."

He declined to discuss the possibility of disciplinary action against Major Joyce.

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