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Photo courtesy Paula Radice

Photo courtesy Paula Radice

Militarisation in schools – a teacher’s perspective

Dr. Paula Radice has lived and worked as a primary teacher in Hastings & St Leonards since 1995 and in the last few years has been a local Headteacher. Hot’s Sean O’Shea talks with her about her experience of militarisation in schools, the impact it can have on young minds, and what it’s like being expected by Inspectors to “promote British values” in her school.

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Could you say a bit about your own background and journey in education?

I’ve been a primary teacher, and subsequently a school leader, in Hastings/St Leonards since moving here in 1994, after completing a PhD in 19th century electoral/political party development. I chose primary teaching because I love the joy of learning young children have, and the wonder they bring to finding out about the world. I have specialised in working with the most able pupils, and think that this town has the most wonderfully sparky, creative, compassionate and intelligent learners you could possibly wish to teach! It has been a complete privilege to work with so many of them: they’ve taught me just as much as I’ve taught them.

Following changes introduced by the former minister of education, Michael Gove, schools in England are now required to promote British values, both in lessons and in extracurricular activities. Could you describe your understanding of this directive?

I must admit to having considerable qualms about “British values” and the political agenda involved. In themselves, I have no problem with most of the values that we are told to promote – fairness, tolerance etc. – as they are the values that all the schools I’ve worked in have quite naturally encouraged. The values of being a decent human being don’t need to have anything to do with nationality.

As a Quaker, I believe that there is a more important priority than the rule of law, another value schools are told to promote. I prefer to encourage children to develop the skills of thinking for themselves and doing what is right in relation to both other people and God. This may involve being prepared to consider breaking the law if the need arises.

As a cynical historian, I could also point to some dreadful “British” values of the last few hundred years, like imperialism, xenophobia, institutionalised racism. I have always taught through my own values, and given a lot of classroom time to discussing right and wrong, how to treat others, and showing respect to people and understanding to those whose lives are different to our own. We don’t need to label these values as “British”: it acts to divide rather than to unite.

What has been your experience of how it has been interpreted and implemented?

The only time I was concerned about it was the last school inspection I was part of, when I was the Headteacher of the school concerned. Thankfully, we had a very sensible Inspector (it may be relevant here to say it wasn’t an Ofsted inspection), who when I explained my views – exactly as I’ve said above – responded, “Quite right,” and we moved on to the next topic!

Could you explain what you mean by militarisation in schools?

Militarisation in schools has followed the general trend of a greater military presence in everyday British life, for example in the way Remembrance has changed in the last few years, Armed Forces Day, and the generally uncritical way in which the military is treated by the media. There are a number of real dangers in this process. In general terms, an increasingly militarised society may not engage in the wider debates about how to resolve conflicts, increases the impact of the arms industries on government policy, and perpetuates the need for an external and dehumanised “enemy” (something the tabloid newspapers specialise in).

But there has also been a quite deliberate Government policy of promoting “military values” in schools as part of a wider movement to raise the willingness of the public to pay for the military, to make recruitment easier, and stifle opposition to unpopular wars. Michael Gove has said that “Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos.”

What are some examples?

The ‘Military Ethos Programme’, publicly declared to be designed to “foster confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem whilst developing teamwork and leadership skills,” (all things that can be better taught without a military dimension, in my opinion) saw a £10.85m expansion of school cadet forces; the ‘Troops to Teachers’ programme to fast-track graduate and non-graduate ex-military personnel into teaching; and £8m committed to ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’ – educational programmes for young people permanently excluded from school, staffed by ex-military personnel, some of which involve children doing activities in military uniforms. There has also been the setting up of new “military schools,” and the various branches of the Armed Forces have made tens of thousands of visits to schools (and disproportionately to schools in deprived areas of the country).

The dangers in these sorts of projects lie in the unbalanced view that is given of what military life can be like. Organisations which are worried about this – like Quakers, Forces Watch and Veterans for Peace – argue that there should be an honest and balanced discussion around these programmes. We know that bullying, racism, traumatic mental health damage and the danger of physical harm (and death) are also part of military life, and that these issues should be openly aired.

Britain is highly unusual in the modern world in allowing 16 year olds – children- to enlist in the Army. These youngsters are especially vulnerable and about twice as likely to be injured or die in the first few years of their enlistment as other soldiers. They are not given sufficient information about the physical and mental injuries they will be exposed to.

The training of ex-service personnel has been tried as a way of filling vacant teaching posts and £4.3 million was invested in this initiative. Do you think this is a good idea and what was the result?

“Troops to Teachers,” led by the University of Brighton, has not been a success, either in tackling shortfalls in teacher recruitment or finding employment for many ex-Servicemen and women, for the very good reason that the skill sets involved are not necessarily complementary! From the first cohort taken into teacher training, only 28 qualified to take up teaching places, and from the second only another 40. The amount of money spent has been quite unjustifiable, the equivalent of £62,000 for each of those who have actually gone into teaching. The scheme has now been extended into the Further Education arena as “Further Forces”. It will be interesting to see how many qualify in the first cohort in July 2018. For me, it shows again how much this Government misunderstand what teachers actually do in the classroom.

Teaching is notoriously stressful, what do you do to chill?

Teaching doesn’t always leave much time in the week for chilling – but at the moment I am enjoying drawing up plans for a new venture for the New Year, which is very exciting. Any free time I have is given over to collecting books on Bob Dylan, listening to music, writing, photography and Quaker activities. Last year, I wrote a history of the Quakers in Hastings, which was great fun to research.

What would be your advice for someone considering entering the teaching profession?

Choose where you work carefully. Is it a school where you will be able to teach through the values that have drawn you into teaching? Is it clear when you walk through the school that the needs of the children are at the centre of all decisions that are made? Is there a good mix of more experienced staff as well as young teachers? Be very aware that there will be a great workload demand – and that looking after yourself is not just important but essential. Don’t try to do it all; prioritise the tasks that add to what the children experience, and do the rest when you can. Laugh whenever you can in the classroom, and show the children your own joy in learning! Teaching is still the best job in the world. (But definitely join a union…)

 

Some links:

Hastings Against War     http://www.hastingsagainstwar.org/

Quakers in Britain film “The Unseen March”   https://www.quaker.org.uk/our-work/peace/challenging-militarism-1/the-unseen-march

Forces Watch       https://www.forceswatch.net/

Veterans for Peace UK     https://vfpuk.org/

 

SOS

 

 

 

Posted 10:39 Sunday, Dec 10, 2017 In: SOS

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