By Jim Murphy and Stephen Twigg
Our Armed Forces embody the highest values of public service.
Labour has a proud history of mutual respect with our services, from the support Clement Attlee received in 1945 with his campaign for homes and jobs for returning war heroes to more recent efforts to celebrate military sacrifice through Armed Forces Day.
When we talk about the relationship between our nation and the Services the focus is rightly on how we can offer support to match their sacrifice. But our relationship must be about more than that. One of the most meaningful things we can do is enable service personnel to continue to make a contribution to our country when they return from the battlefield.
Let’s be clear – spreading a service ethos in some schools is not about boot camps, cold showers, harsh discipline or recruitment to the forces.
It is about giving young people in state schools the same opportunities as private schools to have access to mentors, cadet programmes and the kind of technical and vocational skills that come from a career in the forces.
It is about values such as leadership, teamwork and selflessness which are embedded in the services. Of course these values already exist in many schools, and they will never be imposed, but we think that where there is local demand, we should offer them more widely.
As part of Labour’s Policy Review we are examining three particular ideas.
The first is ‘Service Schools’. These would have a distinct Service ethos, would employ qualified ex-Forces teachers and offer mentoring from veterans and Reservists. They could be established in new or existing schools of any type – a community school could develop a Service specialism for instance – but we expect many to be in the form of academies which would develop a partnership with a sponsor from, say, the Armed Forces, the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Associations or a Service charity like the British Legion.
We expect there to be demand in communities with greatest economic need, and our key aim is to increase opportunities for those from poorer backgrounds.
Second, we want to look at expanding cadet forces in state schools. At the end of the last school year 76% of all the cadet forces were in private schools despite their accounting for just 8% of all schools. Research from the University of Southampton suggests that “cadets tend to have high levels of respect for authority and others and high levels of self-esteem. They are likely to be committed citizens and have heightened aspirations.”
When you talk to cadets in areas like Lewisham, they say that the experience has given them skills such as confidence, self-reliance and resilience to cope with the pressures of modern life.
The third element is mentoring. Former service personnel and serving reservists can be excellent role models to young people. We want to look at establishing an ‘Armed Services Mentoring Scheme’ for former and reserve members of the Armed Forces, which could be developed in partnerships with organisations such as The Princes Trust and UK Youth. This would provide young people with a range of soft skills, as well as challenging disruptive behaviours. The scheme would also provide a career path in education in for Service-leavers.
There are examples of success. Peter Blunden acts as an Outdoor Behaviour Mentor at St Matthew Academy in South London. Peter joined the Army as a 16 year old who had dropped out of school. He had got into difficulties but through the Army he gained practical qualifications in engineering and fitness. He went on to lead in these areas and spent six years in the army, with tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has created a highly successful intervention programme working with children 6-11 who were disruptive in the classroom. Over a period of 6 weeks or more, children are supported to develop self-esteem and self-confidence, collaboration skills, a vocabulary to express feelings and a team working spirit. Classroom disruption has dropped dramatically and the positive impact has been deeply appreciated by parents and teachers. Peter has enjoyed the work so much he is now applying to do an Access course to PGCE to become a teacher.
We believe that only by taking radical and innovative approaches to creating social mobility and improving attainment can we begin to tackle some of the deep-seated divisions in our society – goals which unite us as Labour activists. We will be on the side of reform when it comes to strengthening the role and respect for our armed services and increasing educational attainment in our poorest communities.
It would be easy for people to mischaracterise these policies, but we want to imbue the values of comradeship and leadership amongst young people. This could be a two way street, providing excellent opportunities for young people and Service-leavers at a time when we need to do more with less. Our Forces’ experiences can provide both moral and technical guidance.
They can make a unique contribution.
Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary and Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP is Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary