PUPILS whose families serve in the armed forces are less likely to go to university because of the significant disruption they face at school, campaigners have warned.

A new survey found one in four Scottish pupils from a services background attended at least seven schools as a result of parents being posted to different locations across the UK and beyond.

In one extreme case a pupil had been to 27 different schools between starting nursery and leaving secondary.

As a result of the disruption some 70 per cent said they lacked confidence, 71 per cent had experienced anxiety and 60 per cent said they had found studying difficult.

In addition, one in five said they had experienced difficulties with friendships and 44 per cent said they had felt isolated.

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET), a 200-year-old charity for armed forces children, said pupils from a military background were one third less likely to go to university than their civilian peers.

Moira Leslie, education manager at RCET, said children from such backgrounds should be considered alongside other groups who face disadvantages when they apply to higher education.

Currently, universities give preferential treatment to pupils from the poorest backgrounds to recognise the impact of poverty on attainment.

Mrs Leslie said: “Not everyone is affected, but as our survey shows there can be significant disruption to the education of pupils from armed forces families,” she said.

“Pupils in this situation can find it difficult to study, particularly if a parent or parents are serving in an active situation or because they are absent.

“If pupils have moved between schools they can find it difficult to settle in a new environment and there may be differences in the coursework or teaching they experience.

“Where they can also find it difficult is when they have an established group of friends that they have to leave behind and start all over again.”

Mrs Leslie said RCET was concerned pupils who would potentially thrive at university were being denied the opportunity.

“Because of these experiences they should be encouraged and supported to include that in personal statements when they apply to university.

“There should also be a way for universities to identify these applications so they can make allowances.”

Five years ago a study of Scottish children who had parents serving in Afghanistan found their levels of stress were particularly high in the build up to their deployment with their worst fears being that their father or mother would be injured or killed.

Academics from City University London, who interviewed more than 50 Scottish pupils, also found they felt apprehensive when their parents were away from home and had difficulty sleeping. Children between the ages of eight and 11 were particularly affected.

The issue was discussed at the Scotland’s Fair Access Conference in Perth, organised by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).

The event focused on the mental health and wellbeing of college and university students.

A key theme was how to improve support for the increasing number of students with caring responsibilities.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Higher Education Secretary, said every student should have an equal chance to fulfil their potential.

“As well as supporting access to courses, it is essential colleges and universities provide appropriate support for students’ health and wellbeing,” she said.

Luke Humberstone, president of student body NUS Scotland, added: “We need to see institutions acknowledging and tackling the barriers that prospective students can face.”

Mike Cantlay, chairman of the SFC, said: “This important national event will be a catalyst for better understanding and faster progress.”