Chancellor hails expansion of military scheme in state schools as way of fostering patriotism, reports Adi Bloom
The Government has announced plans for a wide-scale expansion of the school cadets programme, in an effort to foster national pride.
This week, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, suggested that schools could be doing more to celebrate the ideals of Britishness.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based defence and security think-tank, he said he wanted to: "Involve young people more in celebrating the contribution of our armed forces... I would like to pilot an expansion of our cadet forces, especially in state schools."
Funding for the pilot will initially come from business. But the government has pledged to match this with public funds.
Mr Brown has previously proposed that the Union flag should be honoured in Britain, and that British history should play a far greater role in the curriculum.
More than 40,000 pupils are already involved in school-based combined cadet forces. The programme, which incorporates navy, air-force and army, operates in 251 schools. All but 53 are private. Cadets of both sexes are expected to do to two hours' training, twice a week, as well as weekend training trips and an annual camp.
Weekly exercises include map-reading, first-aid and learning to handle weapons. There are also opportunities for outdoor activities, such as assault courses and canoeing.
The London Oratory school, where the prime minister sent his eldest children, has a 120-strong corps, incorporating army and RAF cadets. Former troops include Nicky, the Blair's second son.
Dominic Sullivan, head of classics and CCF commander, said: "CCF gives pupils the chance to exercise, and to have responsibility over younger pupils. They can learn to fly an aircraft, or play in a marching band.
Quite a few pupils who might have behavioural problems in the classroom can prove to be model cadets. Some of the more disruptive ones might also be the more energetic."
Daniel Hickey recently left the Oratory, where he held the rank of company sergeant major. He said: "Cadets aren't trained as soldiers. Soldiers do a job. Cadets don't. They don't allow us to shoot at human-shaped targets.
You don't have to do 100 press-ups. There's no attempt to break you down and build you up again. The idea is that you develop your character in a positive way."
Lordswood boys', in Birmingham, was among the first comprehensives to introduce a CCF five years ago. Since 2002, its GCSE pass rate has doubled and head Hayden Abbott, headteacher, attributes the success directly to the CCF. "Pupils have become remotivated and re-energised," he said. "They're much more respectful towards authority."
Merrill college, a Derby comprehensive, has 60 pupils in its corps. Roger Shipton, principal, said: "Some of my pupils get their flying licence before their driving licence. They learn new skills very quickly. And it offers employment they can aspire to."
But he rejects Gordon Brown's suggestion that the CCF can be used to foster British identity among pupils: "We're a multicultural, multi-faith society.
I'm not sure Britishness, and the values associated with that, are relevant for us."
This view was echoed by Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. She said: "What we don't want is any notion of Britishness that emphasises race or class or ethnicity, or is based on a notion of militaristic conflict."
Others argue that the gun-wielding cadet programme is merely a modern form of national service. Nina Franklin, special needs teacher and Bristol secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The Government is just furthering its own policy of going to war. We should be encouraging pupils to solve problems without resorting to violence. There are already reports of children having weapons in schools. Now the government is trying to encourage that."