SECONDARY pupils in Scotland are mobilising against military recruitment in their schools. Pupil groups in St Andrews and Glasgow will join Edinburgh's School Students Against War (SSAW) this week to launch a campaign to stop the army targeting children as young as 14.
The move follows a call by the EIS teaching union for a ban on army recruitment teams going into schools, as members urge local authorities to examine whether the armed forces are gaining inappropriate influence over youngsters through outdoor weekends, DVD packs and helicopter visits.
Lorna McKinnon, 14, a foutth-year pupil at Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow, said: "I thought school was the one place you could get away from the horror of the Iraq war, so I was shocked to go into the playground one day and see a helicopter and 20 army guys trying to recruit us.
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"This was without my or my parents' permission, and I had no choice but to listen ... but they won't get me."
Patrick Orr, in 5th year at Edinburgh's Boroughmuir High School, led a recent picket against recruitment by the air cadets in his school, and believes the SSAW movement will keep growing.
The 16-year-old said: "There's a strength of feeling among parents and teachers about this too."
SNP MSP Christine Grahame, a former teacher who has campaigned against army recruitment in schools, shares the EIS belief that pupils in deprived areas have been targeted. She discovered that Govan High School in Glasgow received 14 regimental visits in one year. She said: "I'm delighted schoolchildren are taking up the campaign and I'd encourage schools to get involved. The army admitted to me in a letter it had been proactively recruiting, which is entirely inappropriate.
"One has to suspect it's because more soldiers are leaving than joining. Recruitment is in crisis, for obvious reasons."
Army enrolment in Scotland is falling by a reported 3% a year. A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said it no longer actively recruits in schools but offers career advice in the same way as other professions, and only visits when asked.
She said: "There's never any pressure. We go in to explain what the army does and what the opportunities are, like any other organisation. We don't shy away from the fact that it can be a risky job."
She denied disadvantaged areas were targeted: "It's an urban myth. We go into schools right across Scotland."
The MoD will this week launch a new online teaching resource, Defence Dynamics, which includes 40 lesson plans for English, maths, science, geography and citizenship. Derek Twigg, parliamentary undersecretary for defence, told parliament £2.1 million a year was invested in recruitment teams, and the web resource would enable them to "reach many more children and at a significantly lower cost".
He said: "Our main focus will be to provide teachers of 14 to 16-year-olds with pre-packaged electronic lesson plans with defence themes based on scenarios that reflect the professional work of the MoD and the armed forces."
But pupils like Orr are unimpressed. "Online video games as training exercises; that would be a rosy way of looking at the reality," he said. "The military is not like any other career. A lot more young people are realising you run the risk of getting seriously injured or dying."
Mhairi Britton,16, of the St Andrews SSAW group, said: "We watched the army recruiting DVD and I found it quite disturbing because of the slant on adventure and it all being a great thrill."
The EIS wants a ban on army visits and for heads to stop inviting recruitment teams into schools. "We will ask our members to pick up the issue with each local education authority and try to persuade them to adopt our proposition," said general secretary Ronnie Smith.
Glasgow teacher Steven Dolan said: "Teachers have found recruitment has increased quite dramatically. The army seems to have unlimited funds for outdoor weekends and so on, but teachers don't have money for photocopying."
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