Schools: Cadet Expansion Programme - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:07 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Lingfield Lord Lingfield Conservative 5:07 pm, 18th June 2019

My Lords, I am so grateful to noble Lords who have given up their time to take part in this debate. I remind your Lordships that I am chairman of the charity CVQO—the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation.

During the last few weeks, some 2,000 cadets took part in the D-day commemoration events in France. This was an inspiring experience and gave an opportunity to reflect on the fact that many young men who fought and died had themselves been cadets not long before. Indeed, during that war cadets could join the Home Guard at the age of 16 and learn, among other skills, those of dealing with explosives—not part of today’s cadet programme.

Cadets had, of course, been part of national life for many years by 1944. Indeed, their roots were in the Rifle Volunteer battalions for home defence, within which some schools formed units in the 1860s. By World War II there were some 180 school cadet units attached to territorial regiments, and during the early 1940s Royal Navy and RAF sections were added in many schools. These all became the Combined Cadet Force in 1948.

In 2012, the Cadet Expansion Programme—the project to bring more CCF units to schools, especially in the state sector—was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron. It was given an extra boost by new funding arrangements in 2015, shortly after I last addressed your Lordships on cadet matters. A target of 500 new school cadet units by 2020 was set and Libor money was released to fund them.

How has that programme been doing? I must confess that I had some doubts about the likely efficiency of the scheme, involving as it did more than one government department. However, I must pay sincere tribute to officials from both the Department for Education and the Ministry of Defence for what can be described only as a real success so far. Recent statistics suggest that the 500-unit target will be reached next year, as there are currently some 460 schools with CCF units and a further 60 actively in the preparation stages. Currently, there are some 43,000 cadets in schools. All this deserves praise.

Starting a new cadet unit in a school that has no tradition of contact with the Armed Forces is a difficult task. Continuing it until it becomes a successful, integral and recognised part of the school’s offer to its young people is a formidable mission. The early support and enthusiasm of head teachers is vital, for they must be willing to encourage teaching staff to take part as adult volunteers. I was very pleased to read earlier this year that Ofsted is to build into its assessment of schools a category for character-building activities, such as cadets. I hope that Ofsted inspections will go further, to pay even closer attention to the presence of CCF units and give those schools that have good ones much credit. This will assist the culture change needed to get to the next stage for the cadet expansion scheme.

There is no doubt that for a school cadet unit to be successful, the majority of officers and instructors must also be established teachers in the school. This requires a flexibility of resources, and of timetabling, which is not easy in these times of many other calls on school funding. The MoD currently funds a school staff instructor for one paid day each week, but most fledgling cadets units need at least two paid days to be able to flourish. I hope that a tiny fraction of the £27 billion boost for education funding alleged to be pledged by the Prime Minister this month will be available for this extremely worthwhile provision. In the meantime, the admirable Army cadet training teams fill the gaps, but often have to do so at the expense of more mature units, which also need their regular attention.

What do CCFs bring to schools? The University of Northampton’s 2018 report confirmed what most of us have believed for a long time: young people participating in cadet training develop skills such as leadership, communication, confidence, self-discipline and teamwork. There were clear indications in the Northampton research that the cadet experience has a positive impact on GCSE attainment, school attendance and behaviour. This in turn can lead to an increased uptake in worthwhile vocational training and apprenticeships, and a greater likelihood of employment. Teachers, too, felt that work within the cadet corps enabled them to build pleasing contacts with pupils that benefited both parties back in the classroom.

The Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation, which I am proud to chair, last year added particular value to cadet training in CCF detachments, and in community cadets: the Army Cadet Force, the Sea Cadet Corps, and the Air Training Corps—those which do not have a school base. Last year we enabled some 11,000 young people from all branches to pass level 1, 2 and 3 qualifications under the aegis of cadets, adding greatly to their employability. However, teenagers are not the only people to benefit from our training. There are about 26,000 adult volunteers in community cadets, some of whom are serving or ex-military personnel. Many have earned no real qualifications since leaving school and have hugely benefited from the CVQO’s programmes. Last year, more than 1,000 adults received our diplomas including 90 at first degree and master’s degree level. I am privileged to be able to confer their awards at Sandhurst each autumn. Cadet leaders tell me regularly of the great pleasure and fulfilment they receive from this important voluntary work. They give up much of their spare time to do it, including many weeks of training, so that they can do the best job for the young people they serve. This country is much in their debt.

As I am honorary colonel for cadet music, I ought to mention in passing the welcome proliferation of cadet bands. They are often trained by military musicians to an extraordinarily high standard. Indeed, as the number of regular service bands has diminished in the last years, their places at remembrance services and civic ceremonies, and on local bandstands, have been taken by our young players.

Last week, we read in the newspapers that regular enlistment, especially to the Army, continues to decline. The cadet forces are vibrant youth organisations and the main thrust of their work is as such, but there is clear evidence that they also provide valuable recruits for the Armed Forces. We should not be shy about asserting this. If the cadet expansion scheme has been a success story so far, how can we build on that? I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will confirm that once the 500 units have been achieved next year, there will be an ambitious new target for the scheme. At the present rate, it would take 10 years to double the numbers; we ought to try to do it in five. If we are to do so, more leaders and policymakers in our country’s education service must be made aware of the very real and positive effects that the cadet experience can have on school attainment and on the lives of the young, especially those pupils from areas of deprivation. The cadet forces were founded in Victorian times to make better soldiers. Today, in the 21st century, their task is to make better citizens and they deserve all the support that the Government can give them.