(Post updated on 14/7 on David Lammy's support for the scheme - see below)
Just when you thought New Labour couldn’t get even worse, Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg - sounding just like the hated Michael Gove - announces that he wants to set up military ‘Service Schools’ in every region of the country!
It’s an idea based on so many dangerous right-wing assumptions, it’s hard to believe it can be seriously proposed by a Party that still has the gall to pretend it might be ‘left-of-centre’.
First of all, it’s based on the false idea that the problem schools face is ‘lack of discipline’ rather than the fact that overstretched staff are not given the time and the resources to meet the growing needs of young people.
Secondly, it’s based on the teacher-bashing agenda that the other problem facing schools is ‘poor teaching’ and that a group of ex-service personnel could do the job better. The reality is that experienced teachers have a whole range of essential skills which some ex-service personnel may have – but many will certainly not. After all, are personnel who have been trained to prepare for war really going to be best prepared to support and educate young people?
Thirdly, it’s based on the equally false idea that the main problem facing young people is ‘lack of discipline’ rather than a lack of jobs and hope of a decent future. No amount of ‘military ethos’ ( and what kind of ethos is that exactly?) will solve the problem that successive big business Governments – Tory and Labour – have wrecked the hopes of many young people hoping for a worthwhile career or to be able to afford higher education. What our communities need is investment in real job opportunities, not ‘service schools’ and ‘character formation’ through cadet training!
But, of course, the military backers to this proposal have one job prospect in mind, that's boosting the military reserves – and providing jobs for those losing theirs through cut to jobs in the armed services. Twigg points to a report by the right-wing “think tank” ResPublica “Military Academies: Tackling disadvantage, improving ethos and changing outcomes” as backing for his proposal. But that report is crystal clear in its argument that ‘Our Reserve Forces are in decline and urgent actions are needed to reverse this trend’. To address this decline, it suggests that teachers might be given jobs if they agreed to join the Reserve Forces – i.e. sign up, or no job ...
The report goes on to claim that “A military background can be a huge asset when it comes to the delivery of pastoral care to troubled youths” particularly because recruiting predominantly male soldiers "could ‘unsettle’ the current status quo where teaching is increasingly delivered by white females”. Shall we wait for the headline, “Too many women teachers make our children riot” ?!
Twigg’s dangerous proposal is just further proof that New Labour are no alternative to the hated Con-Dems. As well as organising industrial action to defend education and our public services from cuts, it’s high time trade unions used their resources, not to back Labour, but to back a real political challenge to all these parties of big business.
UPDATE: 14/7/12 - it seems that there is a serious drive by some forces in New Labour to back this idea of 'military schools' - with David Lammy now adding his support in an article in the New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/07/why-left-should-give-military-schools-chance
Lammy takes to task those on the 'liberal-left' that have opposed the idea as if they are saying that all squaddies are 'brain-washed killers'. It's true that, in correctly opposing this scheme, opponents must guard against exaggerated and unfair attacks on military personnel. However, there's no avoiding the fact that the 'teamwork' for 'a common goal', that Lammy hopes military schools can foster, is ingrained in the forces for the primary goal of killing an enemy - and with a 'discipline' reliant on personnel obeying orders at all costs - an attitude which I certainly would not want to be part of school education.
Lammy's also extols extending the virtues of public-school education to state schooling through the 'military school' scheme. But the army remains as class-ridden an institution as any in Britain, with many officers recruited from public-schools while many of the 'poor bloody infantry' come from unemployment black spots where the army offers one of the few job opportunities on offer. Many return from conflict zones physically and mentally scarred, but, as a recent letter in the Guardian points out, harassed by the 'work capability tests' introduced by a Government that wants to ignore the mental health difficulties that face many ex-soldiers.
Hypocritically, Lammy tries to justify the scheme as introducing "adventure training, flying, sailing, white water rafting" etc to schoolchildren through the Cadets. But why should these activities only be available through military organisations? Why aren't youth services being funded to offer these activities to working-class kids? Of course, the real facts are that youth services are being cut by Central Government and by Labour Councils - including in Lammy's own constituency http://www.youthfightforjobs.com/article/7174
Yes, Mr Lammy, there's plenty of reasons to to shout 'betrayal' at New Labour - unfortunately, the 'service schools' idea is just one of many.