Scottish Government urged to ensure army school visits are '˜appropriate'

MSPs have called on the Scottish Government to ensure messages given to children by military officers on school visits are 'appropriate' following concerns about pupils being encouraged to leave school and join the military.

There are concerns about pupils being tempted to quit school early, Picture: Michael Gillan

The Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee said the government should carry out a nationwide study of the impact of school visits by the armed forces.

MSPs have also demanded more data on the number of visits in Scotland each year, calling on the Ministry of Defence to make clear exactly which schools it attends, and how often.

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The Scottish Government today said troops speaking to pupils in school must “not seek to exert undue or inappropriate influence”.

The committee’s report is in response to a petition by campaigners from Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch, who warned that military visits are “often more tailored and directed to those at risk of disengaging with education or work or those who struggle academically”.

Figures obtained using freedom of information powers revealed the military made 1,783 visits to 377 Scottish education institutions over a two- year period, offering careers advice on at least a third of occasions.

Campaigners said that was “disproportionate” and urged the government to ensure parents are consulted ahead of any visits.

Labour MSP Johann Lamont, the committee convener, said there were “strong feelings on all sides” and said the Scottish Government should undertake a Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment “to make sure that the information being given to our young people is appropriate”.

An MoD spokesman said school visits “are not done for recruitment purposes”, adding: “Our armed forces are the pride of the United Kingdom and keep us safe every hour of every day – it is absolutely right they engage with young people to share their experiences about the military’s contribution to our society.”

A spokeswoman said the Scottish Government would consider the committee’s recommendations carefully.

“While it is up to schools and local authorities to determine their involvement with the armed forces as employers, we would expect them to act responsibly and ensure that any participation with any organisation adds value, is appropriate to a child’s age and maturity and does not seek to exert undue or inappropriate influence,” she added.