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Army recruitment 'targeting deprived pupils', Holyrood hears

Campaigners told a Holyrood committee of their concerns over armed forces' visits to schools.

By STV News

Published 15 Sep 2016.

Campaigners concerned with armed forces' visits to schools have told MSPs deprived pupils could be being targeted for military recruitment.

Religious group Quakers in Scotland and military recruitment watchdog Forces Watch are seeking more scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits, which figures show are on the rise.

Between 2003-2004, fewer than 15 school visits were recorded by the Army, which had risen to 292 in 2011-12, according to Freedom of Information requests.

Less data is available for school visits by the Navy and the RAF, but they are known to have made 210 and 182 visits respectively in 2011-12.

The Ministry of Defence denied that schools are ever visited for recruitment purposes.

A 2014 report by Forces Watch and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) revealed that 83% of state secondary schools had visits by the armed forces between 2010-2012, with 1455 visits in total.

The report also claimed that six state secondary schools had been targeted 20 times or more by armed forces visits during the same period, and that they accounted for 95% of all visits at the state secondary level.

Speaking to Holyrood's Public Petitions Committee, the campaigners called into question comments made by the Army in 2013 on its own schools career advice.

The submission to the committee stated: "Education Scotland said in 2015 that the Ministry of Defence had requested school deprivation data following an earlier attempt to obtain a database of sensitive student information for England in order to better target Army recruitment.

"In 2013 the Army stated that its schools careers advice 'is often more tailored and directed to those at risk of disengaging with education or work or those who struggle academically'."

They added during the session that the armed forces "may be attempting to target students from more disadvantaged backgrounds" and said they were seeking guidance on how the visits could be conducted with greater "political balance" and a more "realistic representation of ... what a career in the armed forces involves".

Other areas for which they are calling for greater scrutiny include the location, purpose and content of visits and a comparison with the number of visits by other employers.

They are also looking for greater consultation with parents and guardians prior to armed forces' activities at school.

The original petition was lodged in March, and collected over 1000 signatures.

Committee convener Johann Lamont said MSPs should ask the Children's Commissioner and the Scottish Government for their views on the matter.

Lamont said: "I can see in some localities with a strong connection to the army individual schools might be very keen on this but in other areas there is less of a connection.

"We would also want to contact the Army, in terms of their careers service, for their response to the petition."

She added: "The Children and Young People's Commissioner and the Scottish Youth Parliament may have a view on this.

"This is a list that we can expand because we're really trying to get the information and sense of where people are with this.

"There is a dilemma between particular communities being targeted, but also recognising that some young people can potentially get good employment outcomes from making an active choice to go into the armed forces.

"We need to get a sense of what that looks like, what the safeguards are and the extent to which it is not being targeted at particular communities."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "The armed forces never visit schools for recruitment purposes and would only ever visit a school after being invited by a teacher to support school activities.

"These visits are of great benefit to pupils, and the three services consider it their duty to explain to children their role to protect the nation, and pass on valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork and citizenship."

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