‘A military ethos could transform our schools – a misrepresentation of the truth?’
Steve Winter, deputy head at Bethany School in Kent, argues that a military ethos in schools is unnecessary when schools can instill the same values and philosophies through outdoor learning programmes.
As the son, brother, nephew and grandson of soldiers, my life has been imbued with a military ethos. This ethos was further enriched by my time as a pupil at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School and later as the Contingent Commander of the CCF at a previous school. The recent pronouncement by Gavin Williamson, Secretary of Defence, that schools should embrace a military ethos because ‘their skills, values, and can-do attitude can inspire today’s young people to challenge themselves and reach their potential,’ certainly piqued my interest. However, I am concerned that this is a misrepresentation of the facts and takes a myopic view of the value of the military ethos. My concern is that this approach is intended to be served up as a panacea to the woes of an education system where young people, according to the pronouncements of last weekend’s teaching union conferences, appear to lack discipline and mental strength.
My time as a pupil at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School was genuinely formative, the focus on developing teamwork, communication and leadership skills through the CCF and the school’s military tradition gave me both a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance that it has been argued are sadly lacking in young people today. As a Contingent Commander in the CCF, I expounded to many a pupil and parent that joining the CCF was vital in developing these characteristics, which would be highly prized in later life; at the time, I firmly believed that to be the case. The opportunities that being part of the Cadet Forces gives young people to develop are innumerable and incredibly valuable.
However, I no longer remain as convinced that embracing a military ethos in schools is the best way and believe that there are more ways to skin this particular cat. At Bethany School in Kent, as Deputy Head, I have often been asked why we don’t run a CCF. My answer is a simple one: ‘We don’t need to.’ With a magnificent rural site, we have focused on developing the same outcomes for our pupils that Gavin Williamson aspires to for all schools; through the creation of an outdoor learning programme that plays a full part in our curriculum and overall philosophy of learning.
At Bethany, pupils are encouraged, through a wide ranging outdoor learning curriculum to develop teamwork, leadership and communication skills and our learning habits: persist, engage, react, questions and reflect. As with many independent schools, pupils have a huge range of opportunities to do this through a series of collapsed curriculum days, activity weeks, enrichment activities and the Duke of Edinburgh’s award to develop their self-confidence and their self-reliance.
Whilst Mr Williamson may prize the skills, values and can-do attitude of the military it is not necessarily the only way forward. What matters is that young people are given the opportunity to connect to their environment through any form of outdoor learning and to learn and practice teamwork, leadership and communication skills in all arenas so that they have a range of soft skills that they can bring to bear in any challenge that they might face.