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Should schools boot out the army?

PUBLISHED: 15:22 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 09:38 23 August 2010

LONDON - MARCH 05:  Soldiers of the 151 (London) Transport Regiment stand before marching towards the City Hall where they will receive medals for their achievements in Afghanistan on March 5, 2008 in London, England. The regiment have been stationed in Afghanistan for 9 months.  (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

LONDON - MARCH 05: Soldiers of the 151 (London) Transport Regiment stand before marching towards the City Hall where they will receive medals for their achievements in Afghanistan on March 5, 2008 in London, England. The regiment have been stationed in Afghanistan for 9 months. (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

2008 Getty Images

Last Tuesday, delegates at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Manchester, voted in favour of a motion to support teachers and schools in opposing Ministry of Defence recruitment activities that are based upon misleading propaganda

Last Tuesday, delegates at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Manchester, voted in favour of a motion to "support teachers and schools in opposing Ministry of Defence recruitment activities that are based upon misleading propaganda".

The motion read: "Military intervention in schools presents a partisan view of war largely by fatalities in favour of promises of travel, skills transfer and further and higher education sponsorships otherwise unavailable to unavailable to young people."

The move follows a massive majority vote against the same thing in Scotland last June.

At the conference was Bexley NUT, Jill Saunder who was pleased with the result.

"The main qualm is that we feel exploited for recruitment because of the unpopular recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.

"When the army comes in and presents in schools they are doing so to an audience too young and vulnerable by nature of youth and inexperience.

"They are only getting one side of the argument and they don't have the resources to question it.

"The army believes what it is doing is the right thing but death is not a good selling point.

"The ideas that they present are all inducements which say you would be better off if you came in to the military."

Ms Saunder believes military careers advice is intrinsically different to that of other industries as "we can guarantee one outcome is death or maiming."

She said: "You can guarantee that doesn't happen with being a plumber or a nurse or pretty much any profession that isn't a risk.

"Of course there are drawbacks but when it's a drawback that is life threatening it's essential that it is pointed out. It's only right and proper."

But former soldier, Gravesham MP Adam Holloway accused NUT members of ramming garbage down the throats of children.

He said: "It's absolute b****cks. Just because some teachers self indulgently vote against the army coming in to schools doesn't mean it's going to happen.

"Teachers should stick to teaching children to read and write. I bet some of the children leaving their classes can't.

"It's nothing to do with them and it shouldn't be a case of them projecting their political views on to children.

"They shouldn't ram that garbage down the throats of children.

"They can all go and live on an island together and be politically correct to each other. Teachers like that aren't welcome in Gravesend.

"The point is Britain is a nation state which needs health service, police and armed forces to protect from enemies. And the armed forces need to be properly manned.

"When I was at university, fascists and racists weren't given a platform and that is totally wrong, not only from a freedom of speech perspective.

"We should be free to see and hear what other people are about and their different arguments."

Kieran Osborne, headteacher at Hayes School, Bromley, said he has invited the army in to his school many times and has always been satisfied with their behaviour.

He said: "A few days ago we had an enterprise day where over 30 different organisations came in and gave trial interviews to our students and the army was one of them.

"We have had the army come in to school many times for various purposes such as team building, road shows and for recruitment purposes."

Each year, several pupils from Hayes School enter the armed forces, something Mr Osborne attributes to the opportunities the military lifestyle presents.

He said: "When they come back to visit they usually tell us three things. They say it's much harder than they thought it would be; that they've been given some fantastic opportunities; and also how affected they have been by overseas action, how sad and distressing it is."

In that case, is the army portraying properly the reality of life in the military?

Mr Osborne added: "The army never lies to them about the demands placed on them. But inevitably they give a sanitised version of the dangers of being in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"It's our job as teachers to make sure they are aware of the horrors of war which we do so through history lessons.

"We discuss what makes a just war and we tell them all conflicts are problematic."

Reacting to Mr Holloway's criticisms of the NUT, Mr Osborne said: "Perhaps as a MP he should learn to differentiate a bit more and not tar all teachers with the same brush."

Ex-soldier, Nick Fabian, 30, of Harber Road, Meopham, joined the army aged 15.

He admits he was "swayed" by military officers who came in for a careers day but sees nothing wrong with it.

As a soldier, he also visited schools to tell children about life in the army but claims he was always fair and frank when describing military life.

He said: "It wasn't all 'Join the army, be the best'. We taught kids about teamwork, respect and self confidence. What the NUT has done is quiet offensive.

"Some people think soldiers are just gung-ho, going in and shooting everyone and blowing things up but they don't see the good work we do like de-mining areas and taking away dangerous weapons.

"They don't think of Bosnia and all the peacekeeping we do. They don't see that side of army life."

Joining at such a young age, Mr Fabian was not allowed to go on operational tours until he was 18.

He spent the interim training, being part of the rifle division and the freefall parachuting division.

He said: "By the time I was 18 I was very keen to get out on an operational tour. For most soldiers, the fun part is the combat.

"I was swayed by the stuff the army told me when they came in to school. They gave me as balanced a view as they could without going in to too much graphic detail.

"But kids know the reality and what they're getting in to. They know if you shoot someone or get shot you can die. It's on TV every night."

Brigadier Andrew Jackson, from Commander Recruiting Group, said: "A career in the armed forces is not something to be ashamed of and we are proud to raise awareness of the tremendous work that our service personnel do.

"The recruiting process is designed to protect the interests of the applicants at every stage, regardless of age.

"Our recruitment practices avoid glamourising war and propaganda. Anyone considering a career in the Armed Forces is presented with clear information and all aspects of service life are discussed in detail, following a sensitive recruitment process.

"We are proud of the work we do with schools and colleges to inform young people about the tremendous work and careers on offer which can provide fantastic and unique opportunities to a wide range of people from all sectors of society."

Ultimately, the NUT's main argument is that the army does not present the risks of a military career.

But perhaps the fact that you can die in the army is so startlingly obvious that it doesn't need to be pointed out. Don't all companies at careers fairs bombard candidates with propaganda? For as many who enter the army there are many more that don't. Teachers do have a right to try and protect children, it's their job. Society has placed more and more burden on them to share that role with parents. Yet in the end it may be time for us to stop underestimating the minds of children and give them a little more credit for their own autonomy.

katherine.nelson@archant.co.uk

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