On 23 June, Quakers in Britain released a ground-breaking film in the build-up to Armed Forces Day (27 June). The Unseen March questions the increasing, and largely unseen, militarisation of schools in Britain. In the film, former paratrooper Ben Griffin, school principal Chris Gabbett and activist Mark Thomas speak out about the strategy that has seen the Ministry of Defence and Department for Education working in close partnership on ‘military ethos’ projects.
The film reveals the evidence for this policy: £45 million of new programmes with “a military ethos” committed since 2011. At the same time, the government has slashed Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and mental health services for young people.
Former Education Secretary Michael Gove stated “every child in Britain could benefit from a military ethos”, an agenda pursued by his successor Nicky Morgan and allocated to Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families. Quakers, who oppose all war, are asking the British government to reconsider its policy to militarise the nation’s classrooms. Quakers are not the only ones alarmed. The film offers critiques from a range of educators including Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders. He says “A ‘military ethos’ is not a learning ethos”. Education requires the ability to question and evaluate different perspectives.
Each new ‘military ethos’ programme is presented as in children’s best interests, boosting self-discipline, building character, developing ‘grit’. The agenda has led to military-led activities being integrated into national education policy, aggressive plans to spread cadet forces to state schools (550 by 2020); arms companies and the military sponsoring new academies and influencing what they teach; military personnel being fed into classrooms as speakers, recruiters and teachers, and all of this is taking place with virtually no public debate or wider scrutiny.
Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans for Peace UK says that the military is selling this idea of the military ethos in order to gain access to schools. He says ‘military ethos’ is actually about instilling obedience without question, developing a gang mentality and removing the innate psychological barrier to killing.
The Unseen March seeks to awaken a national debate highlighting the dangers of an increasing role of the military in education, and the normalisation of war. Ultimately, militarism in schools leads to two kinds of recruitment: the recruitment of teenagers into the armed forces, and the recruitment of wider society to be war ready.
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain, says “So-called ‘military values’, such as leadership, discipline and motivation should no doubt play their part in today’s schools but not at the expense of listening skills, non-violent resolution of conflict, mediation and respect for difference,” he says. “Since the 17th century, Quakers in Britain have felt called to live ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’, and are alarmed at the increasing role of the military in our schools. War represents our failure to resolve our differences by peaceful and amicable means; any ethos which supports it has no place in our society.”
Quakers are asking parents and pupils, governors and teachers, to question militarisation in education.