Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary has declared his support for a proposal for Academies sponsored by the armed forces. The original proposal came in a paper Military Academies: Tackling disadvantage, improving ethos and changing outcome by Phillip Blond and Patricia Kaszynska and published by ResPublica.
The paper starts by declaring that the problem to be solved is “the social and educational dysfunction that cripples our most depressed areas”. One of the causes of this dysfunction is “the loss from our most disadvantaged areas of the foundational moral institutions that can build resilience” (these institutions are not specified). Other causes are identified as extreme inequality in society and high unemployment in deprived areas.
Having stated that extreme inequality and unemployment are contributory causes, nothing further is said about them. The whole paper is how military schooling can provide young people with the moral backbone that they need.
Having converted a deep economic and social problem into a purely moral one, the next step is to look for a moral saviour. Without for a moment stopping to consider different ways in which moral development might be enhanced in current schools, we are taken straight away to the proposed answer: it is the armed forces that have the discipline and ethos required to “change the moral outlook” for those “lacking in hope and aspiration”.
The proposed Military Academies would be sponsored by the armed forces and run by the Reserve Forces and Cadets’ Associations. The staff would be drawn from military and ex-military personnel. Some civilians could be taken on but only so long as they “express support for this unique approach founded in a military ethos”. So, it would seem that being good at maths and good at teaching would not be enough. You would have to express your support for the military ethos as well.
Among other things “Our proposal suggests a way for extending the military ethos beyond its traditional confines…”. Our authors add “The armed forces can make an immensely positive contribution to improving the nation’s moral health”.
The paper tells us that the curriculum would be both “narrow” and “vocational”. No details on how narrow are provided. The only indications about the vocational side is a mention of the “areas of mechanics, technology and engineering”. What encouragement a young person with an interest and ability art or music would get is not mentioned. We are left to guess what place history would have in the curriculum and the sort of history that would be taught if there were to be a place for it.
Essential to the proposals are an extension to both the school year and the school day. There would be mandatory summer schools and the school day would be extended with “civic or sporting activity” which would augment the schools’ role as “engines of civic solidarity”. There is no discussion of the consequences of all this for teachers’ pay and conditions.
Towards the end of the paper Blond and Kaszynska tell us that “This proposal sits firmly within the laudable initiatives of both Michael Gove and John Hayes and we see it as a way of complementing their current policy initiatives”.
Despite all this the proposals seem to have convinced Stephen Twigg. Did the Shadow Cabinet discuss and approve this new position? I think we ought to know.