Stopping short of suggesting the return of National Service, the government is promoting cadet units in schools as the answer to the problems of Britain's youth. Unlikely though it now seems, I was once, between the ages of 13 and 15 a corporal in the Air Training Corps. This was before I before discovered Heavy Metal, long hair, teenage rebellion and CND.
I had quite a lot of fun. I learnt about aircraft, radio, field-craft and how to shoot and strip down a rifle. I also learnt how to march, polish boots and crisply iron a shirt. There just wasn't any comparison with Sea Scouts, which I had been in for about six months - we had proper (free) equipment and when it came to anything dangerous, our instructors were professionals not well intentioned amateurs.
But there was also no getting round the fact that it was all a glorified recruitment exercise for the RAF. The ATC’s origins were in the second world war when the intention was to shave some time off the basic training of school boy recruits. And it's still really all about recruitment today; unsurprisingly given the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the services face a manpower problem.
Of course it’s also argued that experience in the cadets promotes ‘self-discipline’ and ‘values’ amongst young people. To a certain extent it does. But so does being in the Scouts, being a member of a sports team, or pretty much any other activity outside school that isn’t criminal and doesn’t involve sitting in front of a TV or games console.
So why the emphasis on uniforms and the military stuff ? Significantly the government’s proposals focuses on the Combined Cadet Force, the tri-service organisation that is based on schools – and until now predominately independent schools. Not the Army Cadets, Sea Cadets or ATC which are organised in local units and who, as far as I can remember, regarded the school-based CCF as a bit crap and poncey and altogether too school-like.
The CCF actually fits very well with an independent school's ethos. Attendance can be made compulsory, misbehaviour in class can be punished with extra duties in the evening with ‘the corps’, and there are ready-made officers amongst the teachers. Stuff that just doesn't really belong or work in a modern state school.
Apart from the sly recruiting of young people to fight in questionable wars, I regard this particular linking of cadets with schools schools as very suspect. It represents a distinct militarization of education. No doubt some would see this as a good thing, but it scares the hell out of me.