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.

Alert me about debates like this

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, this is a time-limited debate and I have lots to say, but I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I am not saying that 500 is the absolute upper limit; of course, we keep that under review. We continue to push the envelope and would always want to do that in a geographical area where we have capacity to increase the number of cadet units in schools. I was simply pointing out that capacity is a challenge, which is why we are looking to increase numbers in the particular kinds of schools that we are targeting, but the figure of 500 is not fixed in stone. I hope that corrects any impression I gave earlier.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, mentioned the Ecorys report. It is several years old and we regard it as having been superseded by newer studies, such as that currently being undertaken by the University of Northampton. So far, this work has been published in two interim reports which clearly set out the benefits of the cadet experience. This research gives head teachers, who have a crucial role to play in enthusing parents, pupils and staff about the benefits of a cadet unit, the evidence to convince others of the value of having a cadet unit in their school.

However, despite the clear benefits, schools can face significant challenges and barriers to establishing and running a cadet unit, particularly in relation to funding and human resources. Unfortunately, along the way towards meeting our Cadet Expansion Programme target, a number of new units have not flourished and have had to close. These closures have occurred for a variety of reasons which neither the Ministry of Defence nor the Department for Education has the leverage to influence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised a number of important points, but one I would like to pick up on is that the key to the success of a cadet unit is the enthusiasm of the head teacher. If a head teacher who is in favour of cadets is replaced by one who is not, there is a clear risk to the survivability of the unit. Head teachers must also be able to attract and retain sufficient capable and motivated individuals, either from the staffroom or beyond, to run the cadet units. Given the responsibilities and workload of teachers, this is not always easy—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. We also recognise that difficult decisions sometimes have to be made as head teachers balance priorities while needing to live within their budgets.

We are therefore continuing to support schools through the cadet bursary fund which provides additional money, where possible, to meet the costs of cover for teachers who are away on courses training to become adult volunteers, and helps schools afford to employ staff to administer their cadet units. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked how much money has been spent through this fund. As at 23 May, the figure I have for money paid out since December 2014 is just over £5,900,000.

One thing that has frustrated schools in the past has been the perceived lack of recognition that they receive, despite the significant commitment and effort involved in establishing a cadet unit. I am sure that head teachers will welcome Ofsted’s new framework, which places clear importance on personal development and positive attitudes. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the school staff, and others, who volunteer to support their cadet unit. We encourage school staff to take part in running the cadet unit so that it becomes an integral part of the school, but there is also an important role for adults from outside the school community.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether we could consider introducing a review of awards for cadets and adult volunteers to ensure they are recognised in the honours system, particularly the volunteers. Where possible, and in the majority of cases, cadet and adult volunteer courses already result in recognised national body awards, such as the Duke of Edinburgh, the Royal Yachting Association and St John Ambulance. This ensures that they are recognised outside of cadets and assists cadets with their CVs.

Adult volunteers are recognised through the honours system and are included in the military honours system. While there is no quota, when compared with regular and reserve Armed Forces personnel, cadet adult volunteers do well. Adult volunteers who do not wear uniform are recognised through the civilian honours. They also do well. Adults can receive recognition through various other awards, such as the lord-lieutenant awards or RFCA awards. The mechanisms are there; we just need to remind people that they should nominate deserving individuals.

I also thank all those schools with established cadet units that have partnered with a state school to enable them to offer the cadet experience to their pupils. This is of particular value where staff in schools setting up new units have no prior military experience and helps to transfer important skills. To date, of the schools that have established a new cadet unit under the expansion programme, over 70 are benefiting from such partnerships.

I hope noble Lords will allow me a little extra time, since we have some in hand, to finish my speech, bearing in mind the interventions we have had. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked how we encourage greater participation by young females and those from BAME backgrounds. We do not have targets for either category and the associated numbers are not measured. Any cadet unit, self-evidently, will be composed of young people who are representative of the local area. Having said that, areas with a high BAME population often correlate with areas of high deprivation.

My noble friend Lord Lingfield asked how we can build on what we have achieved, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others. The Government’s ambition is to increase cadet numbers in school cadet units to 60,000 over the next five years. This can only be good for our young people, but as we work towards this ambition, we must ensure that legacy schools continue to thrive. We must also continue to support our 3,000 community cadet units across the UK and ensure that we keep the offer relevant, up to date and appealing to today’s young people. I am pleased that improvements to a number of cadet training facilities funded through the programme are also available to cadets from the community cadet forces. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the single services are committed to sustained funding of cadet units.

Cadet units have a vital role to play in building the character and resilience of young people. The Government remain committed to supporting all cadets and the adult volunteers, who are the lifeblood of the cadet units. I firmly hope that in the coming years, we can build on the success we have achieved to date and continue to give many more young people the life chances they deserve.

House adjourned at 6.27 pm.