Military visits to schools: reframing the debate


Mairi Campbell-Jack, Scottish Parliamentary Engagement Officer for the Quakers in Scotland, wants to open the debate around the armed forces visiting schools.

Checks and balances

Over the last eighteen month Quakers in Scotland and Forces Watch have been working on our petition to The Scottish Parliament, calling for more checks and balances on armed forces visits to schools.

At first we had to establish what is happening in schools across Scotland. Using Freedom of Information requests we found that the information was patchy. Hand written notes, changes in personnel and computer systems all meant information has been lost. The armed forces themselves aren’t fully aware of the extent of their engagement with schools.

Age of visits

Despite the armed forces insistence that they don’t visit children under 13, we found evidence of the Navy sending Career Officers to a primary school in Scotland, and have received anecdotal evidence of visits to nursery fairs with virtual weapons systems.

This wasn’t the only instance of misinformation. One Quaker wrote to their local councillor to express concern about growing militarism in schools in the area. The councillor replied that there was no militarism, then listed a significant amount of in school activities run by the armed forces.

This taught us that we need to open up debate not just in The Scottish Parliament, but with local councillors and staff as well as the people they serve to ensure that the aims of our work against militarism is understood.

Militarism and the Quakers

Militarism isn’t just a state having an army, but also the ideology that supports it and an aggressive desire to use it. It is underpinned by unquestioning support of the armed forces in politics, media and other pillars of the state such as education. The militarisation of our schools by governments increases the acceptance of violence as a means of solving conflict, and the ideology that enables war.

The peace testimony has been part of lived Quaker faith since 1660. Many founder members left Cromwell’s New Model Army after seeing at close quarters the futility of killing. Quakers have been present on battlefields and conflict zones around the world and across centuries, helping broker peace and tending the injured and dying.

The Quaker peace testimony is not formulated from watching conflict from a distance, but from real experience of the devastation to all involved when the response to conflict is violence. Quakers produce resources for education, to demonstrate the benefits of peer mediation, meditation and mindfulness, establishing resilience and peace building skills within communities and schools.

Recruitment agenda

There is evidence that schools visits are part of a recruitment agenda. In 2011 the MoD’s Youth Engagement Review said their visits to schools “should have two clear outcomes: An awareness of the armed forces role… and recruitment of young men and women…” In a 2007 document also stated that among other benefits of having access to schools “…In gross numerical terms the main driver is recruitment… There are many other reasons for visits but many of them have an implicit careers link.” More information surrounding the petition and its background is available on the Forces Watch website.

Colonel Allfrey (now Brigadier Alfrey), former head of recruitment for the whole of the UK armed forces said “It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, ‘That looks great.’ From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip.”

Comparability with other employers?

The armed forces counters arguments by saying that other comparable employers (such as the emergency services) also attend schools. However the emergency service enter schools to give safety information, not to recruit. Aside from careers day other employers rarely enter schools at all.

There is no other employer like the armed forces – there is no employer you can sign up with as a child, and because of that decision experience severe trauma, or even violent death. We know the younger someone joins the worse their outcomes for injury, death, mental health problems, addictions and suicide. We do not believe the armed forces should be compared with other employers.

Of course, ours is not the only point of view in this debate, and you will find many who don’t agree with us. What we would really like to do is open this up, and move it away from simplistic pro or anti-army arguments, to a child-focused discussion among all of us who hold concern for the young people of Scotland.

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