MSPs will consider holding an inquiry into visits by the armed forces to Scottish schools amid concerns young people from deprived backgrounds are being targeted for military recruitment.
James Dornan, the convener of Holyrood’s education committee, said he would examine the case for an investigation following a petition raised by the Quakers in Scotland and the ForcesWatch campaign group.
Tam Baillie, the Scottish Children’s Commissioner, has called for an outright ban on the recruitment of under-18s to the military, something which under existing Ministry of Defence (MoD) rules can only take place with parental consent and away from school grounds.
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The MoD claims representatives only go into schools to give presentations, citizenship talks, hold meetings with staff, participate in career events, practise interviews and hold activities with the students, such as science and maths challenges, as well as indoor or outdoor exercises.
But Emma Sangster, ForcesWatch coordinator, said there was no clear guidance and urged Holyrood’s education committee to look into the issue.
“We would like to see Holyrood’s education committee hold an inquiry into the visits by the armed forces into schools and would like to see the involvement of young people, parents, teachers and others in drawing up guidelines, and a commitment from the armed forces to make accessible good-quality data that covers the range of ways in which they engage with young people in the education system.”
Mairi Campbell-Jack, Scottish Parliamentary Engagement Officer for Quakers in Britain, said: “This issue needs scrutiny and public debate by all in Scottish society, especially parents and children themselves. Quakers in Scotland are led by faith to be concerned about increasing militarisation in Scottish state schools.”
A motion has now also been tabled in the Scottish Parliament by Christina McKelvie MSP around the findings of a recent report by the public health charity Medact.
The report examines the evidence that under-18 recruits face greater risks to health than adult recruits across the course of an armed forces career. It provides a strong argument that national guidance to ensure balance is in the best interests of Scottish children. Dornan told The National: “Any suggestions that the Education Committee hold an inquiry into visits of armed forces to schools will be considered.”
In a written submission to the public petitions committee Baillie called for “clear national guidance about the content of such visits” and when and where they should take place.
He said: “In my opinion, no child under the age of 18 should be recruited to the UK armed forces, a view that is echoed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in the strongest possible terms.”
Baillie also said the military authorities had to do more to make the young “fully aware of the risks associated with a career in the armed forces”. “I am particularly keen, for example, to ensure that young people living in more deprived areas are not disproportionately targeted by such visits,” he said.
“I acknowledge that the armed forces can hold a great attraction for some young people, as a means of travelling the world and providing access to training and qualifications that may not be available to them elsewhere.
“It is vital, however, that these young people know exactly what they are signing up to.
“As has been stated by the petitioners, recruitment to the armed forces is quite different to that for other careers, including other uniformed roles.
“It involves a young person entering into a lengthy contract, from which it is difficult for them to withdraw after an initial period.”
The UK’s Armed Forces Minister Mike Penning has insisted armed forces personnel only ever attend schools after invitations.
Penning, in a letter to the Petitions Committee, said: “No pupil or school student is ever signed up or otherwise makes a commitment to become a recruit during the course of any school visit.”