Schools: Cadet Expansion Programme - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:07 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 6:07 pm, 18th June 2019

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, for obtaining this debate. I particularly commend his praise of Ofsted and its renewed interest in and emphasis on the whole child. This wider emphasis on the whole child, in which the cadets can play such an important part, is really good for our society in the broader educational sense and in this sense.

The Cadet Expansion Programme was launched in June 2012 and aims to open 500 cadet units in state schools across the country. Labour strongly supports this work, as it continues to offer new horizons for young people. Children and teenagers often learn important skills such as teamwork, resilience, confidence and self-esteem which can prepare them for the future, whether or not they end up having careers in the forces.

According to the 2018 Ecorys report into the cadet experience, kids in cadet forces better engaged with peers, got stuck in to their school work and liked being at school. For example, 59% of cadets learnt new skills, and 69% of RAF cadets achieved high GCSE results when compared to other pupils.

The Cadet Expansion Programme allows schools to build better links with the local community. The same report found that the presence of cadets at community events such as Remembrance Day often provided a tangible way to raise the profile of the school within the surrounding area. One respondent added that the link with the local community was,

“much stronger, and mutually beneficial”.

We on this side of the House rightly recognise those benefits.

The report concluded with various recommendations, including increasing publicity about cadets, enabling schools to develop longer-term strategies for their units, and further research into the programme’s outcomes. Can the Minister update the House on any progress on these recommendations, as well as confirm that the Government are on course to meet the target of 500 units by March 2020? Will the Minister also consider introducing a review of awards for cadets and adult volunteers to make them equivalent to recognised skills and educational standards such as the Duke of Edinburgh awards?

According to government figures published in April, there were 14,540 Sea Cadets, 37,670 Army Cadets and 32,850 Air Cadets—over 85,000 in total. However, these figures sadly revealed an almost 2% decrease, as well as a decrease in the number of adult volunteers for the Combined Cadet Force of almost 7.5%. While we wish to express our enormous gratitude to adult volunteers who give up their precious time to take part, the fall in their overall number is concerning. Can the Minister explain why there has been such a large fall in the number of adult volunteers? We should ensure that these people are recognised in the honours system, as they believe they are often overlooked.

The figures also showed that female representation in the Community Cadet Forces has increased slightly from 30.8% in 2015 to 33.4% in 2019. However, the Government stated that,

“the rise in the proportion of female cadets can be partly attributed to the decrease in the number of male cadets.”

Can the Minister explain how the MoD is to encourage girls, as well as those from BAME backgrounds, to take part in cadets? Funding too remains a key constraint for many. While the MoD covers some costs, schools have to meet others costs of employing a co-ordinator for the cadet unit and providing cover for teachers who are acting as adult volunteers. Can the Minister confirm how much funding has been awarded to schools through the Cadet Bursary Fund?

To close, I reiterate Labour’s support for the cadet programme and the benefits young people can gain when they take part. I hope the Minister is able to answer my questions, and that the Government will take positive steps to encourage the growth of cadet units across the services and across the country.