Opinion: could the Armed Services help run schools?

First of all it is no exaggeration to say that the British public are hugely proud and supportive of our armed services, and so we should be of the men and women who dedicate their lives to national service. But in modern times the military is facing a number of challenges which are rapidly changing the function they serve.

With a Conservative Defence Secretary enacting the biggest round of cuts since the end of the cold war, it is clear that our armed services must adapt to survive. Thus Labour’s proposal for schools staffed by armed service staff come at an interesting time. They are right, I believe, to point to the effective presence of combined cadet forces in the private sector, but many Liberals baulk at the idea of militarizing education.

This is where our credentials as radicals and innovators are put to the test: is there a credible way that the military and schools can both adapt to have a more productive relationship to mutual benefit? Labour appear to have fallen into their more authoritarian tendencies by focusing on discipline and a service ethos underlying this relationship. But as we bemoan the lack of vocational opportunities available to young people, and pledge to do more, is there a better way?

I believe the military, in a parallel effort to private sector companies, should have more of a role to play in providing training and career opportunities to young people. This doesn’t mean conscription, and certainly not sending the less able kids off to join the army. It is a vision of co-operation between schools and the military, with service personnel providing training and mentoring to young people not in education or training, helping meet our manifesto pledge that they won’t spend more than 90 days  out of work or training and on Jobseekers’ Allowance.

But more than this it offers our armed services an opportunity to adapt, and modernize. For those with misgivings about unnecessary and illegal wars and excessive defence spending we should focus the debate on a military complex in this country which focuses on humanitarian missions and goals, and I believe helping provide training to our young people could be an important first step in bringing about this renewal and reform of Britain’s armed services.

* Sean Davey is the Chair of London Liberal Youth

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18 Comments

  • A very interesting OP, but can I point out that the AF already run a major education establishment – their own. I believe that they have found it necessary in recent years to offer entrants “top up” schooling to meet their needs, plus they do a huge amount of vocational and academic education for serving personnel (including a high standard of engineer training).

    “Labour appear to have fallen into their more authoritarian tendencies by focusing on discipline and a service ethos underlying this relationship”
    Why is discipline and a service ethos “authoritarian”? Contrary to what some may believe, the AF don’t really want drones, they want people with initiative (part of the service ethos) and self discipline (so that they can be trusted to get on with things). People without those traits don’t usually stay to long.

    “This doesn’t mean conscription, and certainly not sending the less able kids off to join the army. It is a vision of co-operation between schools and the military, with service personnel providing training and mentoring”
    They’d probably go potty if you tried to push conscription on them anyway, but yes they could do a lot for mentoring and training. One of the many things that they are good at is confidence, team and leadership training. The first of those 2 may help a lot of kids (especially if they haven’t had the best of life so far), the third could help them progress in life.

    I’m a bit confused by “But more than this it offers our armed services an opportunity to adapt, and modernize” and
    ” important first step in bringing about this renewal and reform of Britain’s armed services.”

    Why do you think they are not “modern” and why do you think they need reform – reform from what? (I’m sort of assuming you hit a word limit barrier when you got to that bit)

  • lucas north 11th Jul '12 - 5:12pm

    We should keep the army as far away from young people as possible.

  • Richard Dean 11th Jul '12 - 6:08pm

    No, they could not.

    The task of the miltary is to defend the country. What seems to be proposed here is that the miltary engage more staff than is needed for that task, and that the extra staff provide special types of training in schools. Well, if such training is needed, why can it not be provided by those same people but working in the private sector?

  • lucas north11th Jul ’12 – 5:12pm……………..We should keep the army as far away from young people as possible…………………..

    Except when we need them for their security at the Olympics? Havingw read the posts on the ‘cuts’ I’m reminded of Kipling’s ‘Tommy’.
    “While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
    But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind”

  • @Jason

    Thanks, couldn’t have said it better myself.

    @Richard Dean
    “Well, if such training is needed, why can it not be provided by those same people but working in the private sector?”

    Strangely enough, page 15 of the CA:
    “creating a new programme, ‘Troops for Teachers’, to recruit ex-Service personnel into the teaching profession;”

  • Richard Dean 11th Jul '12 - 10:54pm

    Chris_sh.

    Thanks, great to see you agree with my point, which is indeed consistent with the Coalition Agreement. If military people want to teach in schools they need to leave the military first. They will also very likely need to be trained themselves before taking on a teaching role. Teaching requires skills that are not identical to military skills.

  • @Richard Dean
    I could be wrong (and I’m sure Sean will correct me if I am), but I don’t think the idea is for serving military to take over from teachers, I base that thought on:

    ” is there a credible way that the military and schools can both adapt to have a more productive relationship to mutual benefit? ”
    &
    ” It is a vision of co-operation between schools and the military, with service personnel providing training and mentoring to young people not in education or training”

    i.e. schools working with the military on things that could help kids, not stood in front of a class teaching 1 + 1.

    I will now wait to see if Sean shouts at me 😉

  • Richard Dean 11th Jul '12 - 11:25pm

    I read the title phrase

    “could the Armed Services .. run schools”

    as a question about whether the Service, as opposed to ex-servicepeople, could take over the running of schools. Like for instance

    “could the Armed Services … drive fuel tankers when the civilian drivers strike?”
    “could the Armed Services … take over from the police in a riot?”
    “could the Armed Services … run the NHS if the doctors get bolshie?”
    “could the Armed Services … govern the country?”

    If people in the Armed Services want to teach, they first need to get out of the Armed Services. We do not want serving generals taking decisions about how civilian schools should be run.

  • @Richard Dean

    “If people in the Armed Services want to teach, they first need to get out of the Armed Services. We do not want serving generals taking decisions about how civilian schools should be run.”

    You’re talking about two different things Richard :-D. Running a school is not the same as teaching in a school, to follow the logical conclusion of what you are saying, only teachers should be allowed to run schools (i.e. no input from serving politicians (at whatever level) and no parental input).

    As for generals, well I suppose that they must have proven themselves to be competent managers to get that far up the scale, so why not let them run a school (with teachers in the classroom of course), I’m not certain if the military top brass would be overly chuffed though.

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '12 - 12:21am

    No, they could not. The task of the Armed Services is to defend the country. They have no role at all in running civilian schools. If ex-service people want to get into education that’s great, let them follow the same stages that evferyone else does, like the CA says. But deploying serving military people to schools as a way of avoiding effects of military budget cuts is no solution at all. Apart from anything else it just transfers the pain to someone else – putting existing teachers out of work.

    Is this about discipline? Truancy? Is it being claimed that military-style discipline will solve those symtoms of social problems? Is this about focus and mission? Is it being claimed that the military know how to organize things better than professional educators? Well they’ve got a lot to learn about themselves if they think that! Life is civvy street does not have the kind of pre-existing purpose that lif in the miltary has. It’s more complex, open, and changeable.

  • @Richard Dean
    “The task of the Armed Services is to defend the country”
    Actually, the task of the AF is to carry out the orders of the sovereign through her ministers (i.e. the Government), which obviously includes defending the Country but can include many other things.

    ” But deploying serving military people to schools as a way of avoiding effects of military budget cuts is no solution at all……”
    I don’t think that was the suggestion was it?

    “… putting existing teachers out of work”

    Again, I don’t think the suggestion was to replace teachers.

    “Is it being claimed that the military know how to organize things better than professional educators?”
    I would certainly suggest that the military know how to organise some things better than professional educators, mainly because they’ve had 100s of years of doing it.

    ” Life is civvy street does not have the kind of pre-existing purpose that lif in the miltary has. It’s more complex, open, and changeable.”
    Excuse me 😀 You really don’t know much about the military do you Richard?

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '12 - 1:33am

    One of the little complexities of life in a modern democracy is that the military and the sovereign are under democratic control.

    Of course we like to continue the fairy take that the sovereign is the head of the armed forces, and that the government is formed by “her” ministers. The reality is that the sovereign obeys the orders given to her by the elected government of the day. She has no choice. When a soldier lays down his or her life, it is the people of this democracy who owe that soldier so much, not the sovereign.

    Labour seems to have come a long way from its roots. They seem more like conservatives every day. Ed’s performance at PM Questions seemed very drab today. I wonder what the unions think of their teaching suggestion?

  • “Of course we like to continue the fairy take that the sovereign is the head of the armed forces”
    It is a very important point though, it ensures that no soldier ever has to feel loyalty to a politician – only to the Crown. It may sound mad to some as it is a bit of a fairy tale – but a very important one for all off that.

    “I wonder what the unions think of their teaching suggestion?”
    Don’t encourage me Richard or I’ll be off to read it in depth instead of doing what I’m supposed to me doing, I’d be a lot faster at doing accounting and paperwork if there was no such thing as political websites 😉

  • Chris_sh & Richard

    Good discussion but I wonder if we’re missing something here, namely the proposed changes to the armed forces where greater numbers will be reservists ie. part-time soldiers. Hence for some parts of the forces running schools (and even teaching) would naturally complement their military role. It also quite neatly gets around many of the employment issues reservists have in getting time-off to attend training etc.

  • It’s bad enough that education is run by academics who have little understanding of the creative and practical; they advise the politicians from their academic perspective about what direction should be taken; the politicians then have the annual struggle with the accountants as to what can be afforded and as a result we get an imbalanced, mish-mash education system. The public ongoing dissatisfaction with the outcomes of education, regularly picked over by the media then results in politicians looking around for yet another bright idea, of which this is just the latest.
    Richard Dean, well done, yet again right on the button. As a means of getting people leaving the military into useful employment this is a great idea, but the education of our children has a whole different ethic, which has at its core the principles of nature and nurture, rather different to that of our military. Education should be put back into the hands of great educators. It should not be run as a business to make profit from, no more should it be run by military strategists. Education is about opening the eyes of our chldren to the wonders of the world and helping them to understand the potential within themselves and their place within it. Done successfully it leads towards a world where we need less munitions and camouflage, not more.
    If the future role of the military is into more humanitarian work then any extra capacity they may have should be put to use in comparable work at home, such as working with civil engineering projects, infrastructure maintenance and renewals, power supply and innovation in renewables generation, ie stuff that will be helpful in the third world.. The nearest I would let them get to formal involvement in education would be in prisoner education, where the mix of self discipline and learning trade skills would make absolute sense.

  • @Roland
    ” the proposed changes to the armed forces where greater numbers will be reservists ie. part-time soldiers. Hence for some parts of the forces running schools (and even teaching) would naturally complement their military role.”

    You are right of course, however the proposed route is going to cause a lot of problems to many companies and public bodies. I think the Gov. are trying to follow the US route where they obviously have the national guard etc. But they forget that the US Military is huge (so is the reserve force) and they only really need to call a lot of reservists in the event of a major conflict (e.g. Gulf 1 or 2). The current plan here seems to be to use reservists for a lot more, meaning that it is possible that they will be deployed more and leave gaps behind them. But that is really straying a bit far from topic really.

    @Peter
    “but the education of our children has a whole different ethic, which has at its core the principles of nature and nurture, rather different to that of our military.”
    That rather begs the question, what do you think the ethics of the military are then? What are the ethics of education? (I could also direct those questions to Richard and Simon btw).

    ” The nearest I would let them get to formal involvement in education would be in prisoner education, where the mix of self discipline and learning trade skills would make absolute sense.”
    You don’t think self discipline/learning trade skills is something that should be encouraged in the education system?

    “Done successfully it leads towards a world where we need less munitions and camouflage, not more.”
    Tbh, I think you’re being a tad hopeful there – I think it’ll take a fair bit of evolution to get rid of the desires that cause people to kill each other, education (no matter how good) isn’t going to stop it.

    @Sean
    Unfortunately I think the title has skewed the conversation away from what you hoped for, ah well, c’est la guerre as they say.

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