Schools: Cadet Expansion Programme - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:12 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:12 pm, 18th June 2019

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Lingfield for securing this debate. I pay tribute to him in his role as a chairman of the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation and to the fine work it does to ensure that the skills gained through cadet forces are recognised and rewarded. I am particularly appreciative of his personal contribution in supporting Army Cadet Force musical activities. He will, I am sure, wish to join me in thanking other noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this debate.

Young people today are growing up in a complex world. We need to help them to develop the key skills, such as those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Robathan, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and others: self-confidence, resilience and determination, which are qualities that they need to make their way in life. We need to give them opportunities to develop the leadership, teamworking and other social skills that are so vital to employers. Independent schools have for many years looked to military-themed activities to give their pupils a sense of discipline, adventure and achievement. But we believe such life-changing experiences should not be the preserve of the fortunate. It is young people in our most disadvantaged communities who most need help in developing greater strength of character to cope with the challenges they face.

This Government have sought to see as many pupils as possible benefiting from the same quality of life-changing military-themed youth activity offered in many of the best independent schools in the country. That is why we have delivered the most significant expansion ever of the number of school-based cadet units, starting from just over 250 independent and state school units. The Ministry of Defence and the Department for Education have been working closely together since 2012 on the Cadet Expansion Programme. This ambitious programme has a target of adding almost 250 new cadet units in state-funded schools, to bring the total number of cadet units parading in schools across the UK to 500 by next March.

I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Freeman. The Government firmly believe in the important societal benefits and social mobility that cadet units can provide. Those are significant drivers for our continued investment in the cadet forces, both in school units and in the wider community. The Government have been able to put LIBOR fines to excellent use by committing £50 million to the Cadet Expansion Programme, with the priority being to set up units in areas of high deprivation. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will be pleased, as am I, that the Cadet Expansion Programme is firmly on track to achieve the target of 500 cadet units parading in schools by March next year, with over 450 units currently parading.

The noble Lord spoke about a fall in the number of cadets. I am pleased to say that the number of cadets within the community has increased again in the publication of the cadet annual statistics. However, there has been a reported decrease in the numbers within the Combined Cadet Force, both for cadets and for adult volunteers. This is because CCF Army has approved its approach to accounting for cadet numbers this year, which makes comparisons with previous years less reliable. Some of the earlier data input was found to be incorrect.

I want to address an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about the split in numbers. At the start of the Cadet Expansion Programme, there was a split of approximately 75% CCFs in independent schools and 25% in state schools. The programme is focused on increasing the number of cadet units in state schools in areas of high deprivation, and that focus has meant that we currently have 40% of cadet units in independent schools and 60% in state schools. At the end of the programme—that is, March next year—we will have 37% in independent schools and 63% in state schools, so we have turned the majority of cadet units in schools from independent to state.

Can we improve on the number of 500? The advice that I have received is that the number of 500 school cadet units represents the upper limit of what the three armed services are capable of managing and overseeing, short of a marked growth in their own numbers. The key issue is not money; it is the capacity of the Armed Forces. Should there be additional demand beyond the 500, schools will be guided to channel their pupils to opportunities in local community units, a point rightly made by my noble friend Lady Scott.