Bringing the “service ethos” into schools is already making a difference

by Kevan Jones

Last month Labour’s education and defence spokesmen, Stephen Twigg and Jim Murphy, outlined some ideas on how the role of the armed forces and the “service ethos” could be expanded across our education system.

Their ideas included having mentoring services run by veterans or reservists, increasing the number of former service personnel trained as teachers, having more Combined Cadet Forces (CCF) in state schools and developing specialist “service schools”, including academies, all in order to boost achievement and social mobility. This week Labour released a paper on the proposals as part of our policy review.

Perhaps predictably a chorus of groans followed the announcement, much of it from the Labour blogosphere, about how this showed Labour betraying its working class origins and aligning itself with “militaristic” values.  Not only do the criticisms misunderstand or misrepresent the aims of these ideas, but they fail to understand the military in ways that can be as short-sighted as they are offensive.

Many of the criticisms also overlooked the fact that many of the ideas proposed already exist to the huge benefit of schools in the state sector. I know this from the experience of Walker Technology College in Newcastle.

Walker Technology College was set up during the last Labour Government in 2009 as a pathfinder school, with a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) contingent of 20 cadets. It now has over 100 cadets enrolled and pupils have the opportunity to choose CCF as a curriculum subject.

As part of this, students are able to achieve an army proficiency course accreditation, the Duke of Edinburgh award, a BTEC in public uniformed service and a young first aiders’ award. Since the course was established it has consistently proved to be one of the highest performing and popular awards in the school.

Hard-work, comradeship, respect, responsibility and team work are the essential “soft skills” that have the CCF contingent have brought to Walker College. The “service ethos” that underpins the CCF develops and hones this vital set of life skills, which are highly sought after in a jobs market that is only getting tougher for young people.

It is essential that we maximise the impressive leadership skills that service men and women develop during their time with the armed forces. The CCF course at Walker College has provided former service personnel with a challenging, fulfilling post-service career, which has been to the benefit of young people in Newcastle, increasing attainment, confidence and opportunity.

Walker Technology College has not become a conveyor belt propelling unsuspecting working class children from Newcastle to Helmand. There is no evidence of increased recruitment to the forces from state schools with CCF courses.  Nor has education become “militarised” at the expense of other subjects.  Rather, children in Newcastle have benefitted from a wider range of opportunities and experiences which will help them find work later in life.  It is not in the interests of any child to dismiss ideas based on headlines without looking at the facts.

Only 61 state schools have CCF units attached to them, compared to 196 in independent schools. Private schools constitute only 8% of the total number of schools, but have around 76% of cadet forces. Twigg and Murphy argue that young people in state schools should have the opportunities of those in the independent sector – something I wholeheartedly support and would expect the majority of Labour Party members to also back. State schools like Walker Technology College should not be the exception but an example of what can be achieved when the Military engages with schools in ways that suit local communities.

I hope people will look closely at the proposals in the policy review paper, including the case studies.

Labour began to expand the “service ethos” in our schools when in government. This government talks a good game talk but is not delivering.  If we do not campaign for this to continue now and with a future Labour government we would be selling both school children and ex-service personnel short.

It’s worked for Walker Technology College in Newcastle, so why can’t it work elsewhere?

Kevan Jones is shadow armed forces minister and MP for North Durham

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5 Responses to “Bringing the “service ethos” into schools is already making a difference”

  1. swatantra says:

    I quite agree.
    What is woefully lacking in schools these days is discipline and comradeship; its all about everyone out for themselves, there is no band of brothers or sisters spirit. We’ve even lostr that kinridship in the Trade Unions and The Party.
    So if every 16 year old were to do a cadetship it could bring about a better understanding of what ‘citizenship is all about and ‘service’ to the State, rather like the Spartans had. Its all too self centred today, a me me me culture.The fact is you don’t get on unles you consider youself a part of a team or group or movement or Nation or Europe or the International Community.
    So start at School level. In fact it would be a great idea to introduce National Community Service for all 16+ for a year, rather like a gap year. Leadership will emerge; Leaders will emerge and your social background will not matter a jot.

  2. S.Stock says:

    What is it with you Blairites, you are obsessed with the military. What makes you think that hard-work, comradeship, respect, responsibility and team and other ‘life skills’ are best taught be military people. You promote D of E Awards and BTEC in public services but anyone knows that these a completely useless qualifications in the job market.

    Surely the Labour Party should be concerned with offering young people a decent education, with qualifications that match the job market and some hope for the future.

  3. swatantra says:

    Thats why so many businesses send their employees away on awaydays or weekends simply learning team building skills; that bonding element is so essential in todays competitive world. And the Duke of Edinburgh’s scheme teaches youngsters how to be innovative and face up to challenges instead of running away or taking the easy way out.

  4. uglyfatbloke says:

    The Army cadet Force is the oldest secular youth organisation in Britain and has an excellent track record in encouraging all sorts of desirable activities as well as self-reliance.

  5. Mike Homfray says:

    Let’s hope we still have some willing to stand up against these latest lot of conformist bullies. Brave New World wasn’t far wrong

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