My first job after graduating with a BA in History in June 2012 was a one-year joint placement at War Resisters' International (a global network of antimilitarist/pacifist groups) and ForcesWatch (a research and campaigning organisation focusing on the ethics of military recruitment in the UK).

My main focus over the year was researching and raising critical awareness about the ‘militarisation’ of youth: the process through which young people encounter the military and military approaches – from the presence of military personnel and hardware in public spaces; military youth groups such as the cadets; Armed Forces advertisements online and on television; video games developed by or with the military; and military involvement in education – and are encouraged to see them as normal, necessary, often the best solution to problems/conflicts, and, crucially, to be supported, not questioned.

At War Resisters’ International I edited a book: Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It. Through articles, surveys, images, and quotes, Sowing Seeds shows how young people around the world are being militarised, and how this can be challenged. Two of the articles focus on the UK: one on how military recruiters here target young people from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds, and the other on the military's activities in schools.

At ForcesWatch I did research for a report on the presence and influence of the military in UK universities, which includes paying students through their studies, running cadet units, and being the focus of a lot of science and engineering research. I also fundraised for a short documentary film on what teenagers in the UK think about the military’s engagement with them, which is being made by a team of teenage journalists.

[Photo by Wellington College]

I was very pleased to be kept on by ForcesWatch after my placement ended. I am now their Education Campaign worker. My main task is running the Military Out Of Schools campaign, which seeks to get people to question whether military and military-style activity in schools are appropriate– are they in the best interests of young people? The Army, Navy and Royal Air Force between them made around 11,000 visits to UK secondary schools and colleges in 2011-12. The distribution of visits is uneven: in some areas a very high proportion of schools and colleges are visited, sometimes multiple times in the same year (in Edinburgh 96% of state secondary schools were visited between 2010-2, on average six times over the two years; one school was visited 22 times). Private schools are visited proportionately less, and less frequently. The visits range from presentations on life in the Armed Forces to outdoor team activities. The Ministry of Defence admits that the two main outcomes of these visits are recruitment and 'providing positive information to influence future opinion formers'. (For an overview of military visits to UK schools, see this.)

A new development in the military influence in UK schools is the government’s ‘Military Ethos in schools programme’. This is partly a response to perceived poor discipline and attainment in some schools, and includes initiatives such as Troops to Teachers (fast-tracking ex-Armed Forces people into teaching jobs), the expansion of the Combined Cadet Force units into state schools (in the past they’ve mostly been based in private schools), and military-style activities for ‘disengaged’ pupils, or those ‘at risk of becoming disengaged’. (For a good, critical overview of the Military Ethos programme see this. To see some YouTube videos on Troops To Teachers, the Combined Cadet Force, and alternative provision with a military ethos, go here.)

Young people are the ones most affected by all this. Some have asked hard questions to military visitors to their schools, and The Woodcraft Folk have started their own Military Out Of Schools campaign. Other young people just haven’t had the opportunity to decide what they think, perhaps because they haven’t been told about the downsides of joining the Armed Forces. We hope that our film will help to give you a voice. I also do workshops in schools and at youth events looking at how and why the military engage with young people. 

If you’d like to share your experiences of the military in your schools, or ask any questions, email me at education@forceswatch.net

Owen Everett