Select Committee on Defence Third Report


36. For many people considering a career in the Armed Forces the initial contact will be with an Armed Forces Careers Office or a single Service Careers Information Officer. The Armed Forces duty of care begins at this point—potential recruits will expect to receive an honest description of life and work in the Armed Forces; and an honest description of the standards that they will need to reach and maintain in order to enter, and flourish in a Service career.[55] General Palmer told us that "from the moment somebody walks into an Armed Forces Careers Office… an attempt is made to make sure that they understand exactly the nature of the commitment they are making."[56] Recruitment officers balance managing the expectations of recruits with promoting Service life and the potential for personal improvement that the Armed Forces can provide.[57]

37. The recruitment organisations are asked to meet targets for numbers of recruits which reflect the Forces' manpower requirements.[58] In the recent past, the Armed Forces have been under-manned.[59] Currently recruitment is buoyant, particularly in the Army. In all three Services the number of applicants is at least double the recruiting target.[60] Manpower requirements are expected to fall following the announcement of future force structures in the Future Capabilities White Paper.[61] The reduced recruitment requirements should enable the Armed Forces to be more selective in their recruitment, with a consequential increase in the standard of recruits.[62] The supporting essays to the Delivering Security in a Changing World White Paper, nevertheless, note that "Innovation in recruitment and retention is vital if we are to continue to recruit the best individuals from across society".[63] The White Paper also refers to the future reduction in the recruiting pool.[64] Mr Ivor Caplin MP, the Minister responsible for recruits, wrote to the Committee to explain that, although there were no recruiting bans, the Services' manpower requirements had altered. Some of the reductions in recruit numbers, the Minister explained, were due to improvements in the initial training process. For example, the Royal Navy reduced phase 1 and 2 wastage by about 10 per cent over 2 years, which enabled the training organisation to deliver "the required trained output from a smaller number of recruits".[65] In the Armed Forces, pressure remains on recruiting officers to meet recruiting target numbers. MoD must make it clear to the Services' recruiting organisations that pressure to meet recruiting targets should not lead recruiting staff to dilute standards or admit applicants who do not meet the mandatory minimum entry criteria.

Recruitment process

38. In all three Services, applicants pass through a series of tests and interviews that assess them against eligibility criteria and gauge their aptitude for the various trades on offer.[66] All of the Services assess the medical condition of applicants. The Royal Marines and Army also assess applicants' fitness. Army applicants progress from an initial interview to tests to assess personality traits and basic skills.[67] These tests are considered in more detail at paragraphs 79-80 below. Successful applicants are sent to a Recruit Selection Centre where they undergo fitness and medical tests. Following further interviews, the applicant will be accepted, rejected or deferred. If they are accepted, they receive a provisional job offer and are allocated a place in training.[68] At Lichfield Recruit Selection Centre, we were told that the Army's recruit selection programme not only assessed suitability for training, but also introduced recruits to military ethos. The Centres' aim to motivate and prepare recruits for initial training.

39. In the Royal Navy those who pass the initial assessment progress to psychometric tests, interviews, medical and fitness tests, and security clearance.[69] For the Royal Marines there is an additional selection process at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone which consists of a further interview and a range of physical fitness assessments.[70] In the RAF, airman and airman aircrew applicants sit the RAF Ground Trades Test Battery to determine the trades for which they are eligible. Applicants are also interviewed and undergo medical assessments.[71]

40. Although the basic elements are similar, the three Services approach recruitment in different ways because they have different requirements, and they appeal to different sections of the population. For example, the Army and Royal Marines place more emphasis on physical fitness tests than the Royal Navy or RAF. Some of the differences in approach have simply grown up over time or reflect different historic practices. We expect MoD to build on work to identify aspects of the recruitment processes that would benefit from greater tri-Service harmonisation, and better sharing of best practice between the Services.

Socio-economic background

41. There is a perception that the Army recruits most of its soldiers from the least privileged socio-economic groups. MoD argues that there is little evidence to substantiate that view; but this is, at least in part, because currently MoD does not collect data on recruits' socio-economic background.[72] However, MoD did provide us with the results of a survey relating to Army recruits from the Cardiff area between 1998 and 2000. That study found that the majority of recruits came from a 'broken home' or 'deprived background' and had left school with no qualifications.[73] Lieutenant Colonel Strutt, who produced a paper on bullying and culture shock in the Infantry, reported 32 per cent of recruits come from poor housing conditions and 45 per cent come from 'broken homes'.[74] Professor Wessely told us that some members of the Armed Forces who 'are quite clearly risky', and may come from 'somewhat dubious backgrounds', nevertheless the vast majority of them seem to do well and the military actually does very well by them.'[75] He added 'I know that is not the purpose of the Army, but it is a side effect of the Army; it does address a socially excluded group which very few other people can tackle'.[76]

42. The Cardiff survey found that 40 per cent of respondents joined the Army as a last resort.[77] Mrs Farr told us that some of the recruits who had contacted her went into the Army for the "wrong reasons", and some regarded the Armed Forces as a last chance for a career.[78] Some young men and women may join the Services as a last resort; that does not necessarily mean that they have made a wrong choice. Military life will not immediately appeal to all young people, who may perceive it as too disciplined or prescriptive. There is no reason why those who join the Services, as "a last resort" should not find it a satisfying and rewarding career.

43. Evidence suggests that socio-economic background and educational attainment may be linked to the likelihood of background of recruits is an individual becoming a victim of duty-of-important consideration in the provision of duty of care difficulties. The 'Bullying in Britain: testimonies from teenagers' study found that individuals were less likely to be bullied if they lived with both parents. The 'Tackling Bullying: listening to the views of children and young people' report states that "There is some evidence that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to suffer bullying that others […] and that bullying is more prevalent in socially and culturally disadvantaged areas".[79] Colonel Strutt concluded that:

    Detailed socio-cultural profiling of recruits and better use of the information with [Corporal] Instructors involved could reduce both the stress experienced by recruits and the difficulties experienced by the [Corporal] Instructors.[80]

44. Neither the RAF nor the Royal Navy collects statistics on applicants' socio-economic background, although the RAF is initiating a project to collect some relevant data.[81] MoD has acknowledged the need to collect more relevant information.[82] DGT&E has obtained a demographic statistical database and social trends are to be reviewed annually. However, it is not clear how such information will influence initial training methodology.[83] Without more comprehensive data, it is not possible to gauge the impact of socio-economic background on the subsequent experience of recruits in the training system. We welcome MoD's intention to collect more information about the socio-economic background of recruits to all three Services. We recommend that, in parallel with collecting data on socio-economic background, MoD should research whether socio-economic background influences Service personnel's subsequent careers. We acknowledge that, for many youngsters, particularly those from deprived or disadvantaged backgrounds, the Armed Forces provide an opportunity that may have been denied them in civilian life.

Character of recruit population

45. During our visits and evidence sessions members of all three Services gave us their opinions on the character of young recruits. The Army seemed to hold the most pessimistic view of their raw material—the Commander's Edition of the Army's Values and Standards describes society as "one in which traditional, shared values are less effectively transmitted, and concepts such as honour and loyalty are less well understood".[84] It suggests that young people now have "less deference for authority and a greater awareness of individual rights".[85] The Armed Forces believe that those applying to join the Services now differ in character from those who joined in the past, and in particular have less understanding of discipline.[86] Professor Chivers, Director of the Centre for Hazard and Risk Management (CHaRM) noted that at a recent tri-Service recruitment event the Army was much more concerned about the suitability of the recruit population than the other Services. He told us that the Army representatives "were extremely frank and open in saying how extremely worried they were about the calibre of young people they had to take."[87] Colonel Strutt notes:

    The decline in the traditional family, the rise of individualism and the increasing influence of consumerism, clashes with the central Infantry paradigm in such a way that the infantry, and Army in general, appear increasingly as an organisation which removes choice and personal freedom. The Infantry must of course work with the raw material available and it cannot expect to influence society.[88]

46. In certain respects, the greater awareness of individual rights represents the main challenge to trainers, who need "softer skills" such as mentoring and listening skills, and greater awareness of the needs and vulnerabilities of the recruits in their charge.[89] During our discussions with Army instructors and supervisors at initial training establishments, it became clear that some of them were frustrated by the lack of basic personal and social skills among recruits. That frustration was reflected in the interviews with Corporal Instructors conducted by Colonel Strutt, who was told by an experienced instructor: "I thought I was coming here to teach them to be soldiers, I spend the first couple of weeks teaching them to shave, shower and shit without them cocking it up."[90]

47. Each generation portrays the young as having fewer favourable characteristics than their predecessors. Society changes over time and those joining the Forces will reflect those changes. The Minister gave as an example the reduced tolerance towards racist and sexist behaviour in the general population, which happened in a fairly short time span. He argued that over time that intolerance of racist and sexist behaviour would become more prevalent among recruits and in the Armed Forces as a whole.[91] Another example of the differences between present and previous recruits is young people's greater awareness of information technology, which MoD acknowledges is a growing requirement in the Armed Forces.[92] Instructors are reported to consider current recruits to have better hand-eye coordination than preceding generations, possibly due to their familiarity with computer games.[93] Rear Admiral Goodall agreed that while some "very vulnerable people" come into the Services, in general today's recruits were "sparky" and "agile between the ears".[94] He was confident that "there has not been a drop in standards in the performance of the British Armed Forces".[95] Those different attributes present a challenge to the Armed Forces' training organisation, which needs to adapt to draw out the positive, and diminish the negative aspects of recruits' behaviour.

48. The nature of recruits inevitably reflects changes in society as a whole. Training regimes must be able to adapt to changes in the characteristics of the young people from whom they recruit.

49. The recruits and trainees we met during our visits to initial training establishments clearly possessed initiative and ambition, qualities that have always been rewarded in the Armed Forces. Young people coming into the Armed Forces today may possess highly relevant and desirable abilities that are perhaps less readily identified than those previously looked for in recruits, but which we believe nonetheless can be harnessed and developed to the benefit of the Services as well as to the individuals themselves.

Information for applicants and parents

50. Recruiting staff are responsible for providing applicants with sufficient information to allow them to make an informed decision about whether they are suited to a career in the Armed Forces. General Palmer told us that recruits should be in no doubt that they are entering a "robust organisation where they will be put under pressure" and that "they are themselves making a commitment to us as well as we making a commitment to them."[96]

51. We were told that before applicants sign up they receive written material, and may be given videos, or visits to units if they wish.[97] In the Royal Navy, the advice to recruiting officers is to provide realistic, accurate and consistent information. The advice highlights the importance of ensuring that the material has been understood, and has been provided at an appropriate time.[98] DOC (2) noted the need for further orientation measures for recruits to overcome the dramatic change in lifestyle involved in joining the Services.[99] General Palmer told us that once applicants pass the initial assessment stage they had an opportunity to meet trainers and current recruits and trainers.[100] The Armed Forces are extending their use of pre-acquaint courses and centres to allow applicants to have a taste of Service life before signing up.[101]

52. The families who gave evidence to us said that they and their children had received little information about Service life.[102] As Mr Gray told us "The only contact we had with the Recruitment Office was a letter asking myself and my wife to go down and sign up [Geoff]to join the Army because he was under 18."[103] The Catterick families told us that what their sons had received reinforced the image of a "boys own" world where they could play soldiers.[104] We consider the involvement of families in the training process later in this report.

53. We have considered a range of written material provided to recruits by the three Services. In general the pamphlets and brochures are clear and understandable. However, since a significant proportion of the those applying to the Armed Forces, and the Army in particular, have poor basic skills, they may not assimilate all of the information available, particularly that related to duty of care issues. We recommend that MoD review the material provided to those making enquiries at Armed Forces Recruiting Officers to ensure that it sets out clearly recruits' rights and responsibilities and the nature of the commitment they are making in language that potential recruits will understand.

54. Many potential recruits will focus on the more exhilarating aspects of a career in the Armed Forces, and are unlikely to be concerned about any less exciting information provided. We recommend that the recruitment process includes a requirement on recruits to acquaint themselves with the documentation setting out their rights and responsibilities. Recruiting officers should ensure that potential recruits are assisted in fulfilling that requirement.

55. General Palmer said it was a fundamental point that recruits, and for those under 18, their parents, should understand the nature of the organisation and the commitment being made.[105] He said that parents often accompany applicants to the careers office and, indeed, are encouraged to do so.[106] Colonel Eccles told us that the Armed Forces:

    very much welcome the involvement of parents, guardians or whoever else right from the very beginning, and we have discovered through long experience that if a potential recruit comes along with somebody—a grandfather, an uncle, a parent, whoever—it is much better, it aids the process, and it is very much encouraged. When youngsters come in for the first time, if they are on their own, people often say, "The next time you come back …", because that person will come to the recruiting office on another occasion before they go off to the Recruit Selection Centre, "… please bring somebody with you".[107]

56. Colonel Eccles told us that encouraging parents or a mature adult to accompany an applicant to the recruitment office was considered best practice.[108] However, the families' evidence suggested that they had little or no interaction with the recruitment process beyond the legal requirement to sign up those under 18.[109] Colonel Eccles admitted that currently there are no administrative instructions to recruiting officers to encourage parental or adult involvement in the recruiting process.[110] Parental involvement is probably most important for the youngest cohorts of potential recruits. For older applicants, who may be more independent from parental or other adult guidance, the provision of information to parents, or their direct involvement in the recruiting process, may be less crucial.

57. We recommend that MoD ensure that Armed Forces Careers Offices provide tailored literature for parents explaining the commitment made by the recruit to the Armed Forces and the commitment the Armed Forces make to the recruit.

58. We acknowledge MoD's preference for an appropriate adult, whether parent, guardian or other mature adult, to be involved in the recruiting process. However, we recommend that MoD produce clear guidance and direction on this issue, such that recruiting officers are obliged to discuss with potential recruits the desirability of involving their parents or an appropriate adult in the recruiting process.

Entry criteria and risk

59. The eligibility and suitability of non-officer applicants is tested against certain criteria. Requirements vary between Services and within Services depending on the job for which the applicant is applying. Some criteria, such as those relating to certain types of criminal conviction, create a straightforward bar to entry.[111] Other criteria, such as those relating to education, may be applied differentially.

60. The criteria set down limits, such as age ranges, or educational attainment. Both of those examples can have duty of care implications, for example the youngest permitted recruits are considered to have a potential risk associated with them. Similarly, those with the lowest permitted level of educational attainment may also be considered a potential at risk group. Risk, in this context, relates to the risk of a person becoming a focus of duty of care issues, such as bullying, drug abuse, or self-harm. The identification of risk could mean that a person would be less likely to succeed in the Service environment, although that is by no means certain. We consider some of these issues in more detail below. The breadth of the entry criteria has been related to the manpower requirements of the Armed Forces. Colonel Haes argued that, in the Army, the need to bolster recruitment numbers in the late 1990s led to a 'widening' of the 'gateway'—that is reducing the stringency of the entry criteria—which allowed the Army to accept "lower graded applicants".[112]

61. Much of the material we received relates to the risk factors associated with young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Undoubtedly some individuals who apply to join the Armed Forces are vulnerable. It is not necessarily the case, however, that that vulnerability will impede an individual's Service career.


62. The Armed Forces set minimum and maximum age limits for recruits. The lower age limit for non-officer recruits for all three Services is 16 years of age.[113] The maximum age limits reflect the physical nature of the work undertaken and vary between 27 years for the Army and 33 years for the Royal Navy.[114] Those at the lower end of the age range present the greatest concern in relation to duty of care, particularly those less than 18 years old, who, according to MoD are children in domestic and international law other than in relation to full-time employment.[115] All three Services require parental consent for those enlisting below the age of 18.[116] In the Army most 16 year olds are enlisted through junior entry, which means that they are sent to ATR Bassingbourne or AFC Harrogate to complete extended phase 1 training. Having completed phase 1 training, recruits are sent to phase 2 establishments where they are trained and live alongside older trainees. The decision to enlist those under 18 years of age through junior or main entry is based on the age at which soldiers will finish initial training. Therefore those embarking on longer phase 2 courses may be enlisted through main entry. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) evidence argued that those under 18 years old should not be allowed to enlist in the Armed Forces.[117] Concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of recruiting under 18 year olds into the Armed Forces. We recommend that MoD examine the potential impact of raising the recruitment age for all three Services to 18.

63. We recommend that the Armed Forces ensure that those under 18 years of age are only placed in training environments and accommodation suitable for their age. (See paragraph 327).


64. The cadet organisations comprise the Combined Cadet Force, the Sea Cadet Corps, the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps. The cadet forces are voluntary youth organisations. There are currently 130,000 young people in the cadets. Although the cadet organisations are sponsored by MoD, cadets themselves are not members of the Armed Forces.

65. Those entering the cadet forces are usually aged between 12 and 14 years. Once they reach 18, cadets are subject to a special set of rules, similar to those relating to other adult instructors. The welfare of cadets is covered by child protection legislation, and similar arrangements apply as in other youth organisations. For example, the Air Cadet Organisation vets all adults through the Criminal Records Bureau; imposes a probationary period on all adults before confirmation of appointment; issues adults a range of literature on child protection; gives formal training to uniformed adults; and issues repeat orders drawing attention to duty of care responsibilities.[118]

66. The most recent Army Continuous Attitude Survey shows that 34 per cent of serving soldiers were in a cadet organisation.[119] Several of the families told us their children had been in the cadet forces, and that that experience had influenced their decision to enter the Services as a career.[120] In addition, membership of the cadet forces may reassure both the individual and their parents that they are familiar with Service life. For example Mr Collinson told us that his son had entered the Army cadets when he was 12 years old, and had flourished in that organisation.[121]

67. The cadet organisations provide a valuable resource for the Armed Forces. Members of the cadet organisations are exposed to a taste of Service life, including discipline, physical hardship and self-reliance. Experience as a cadet can motivate people to join the Armed Forces once they are old enough. We recommend that cadet organisations provide advice to older cadets, drafted in collaboration with the Armed Forces, to ensure that cadets are fully aware of the challenges of a Service career.

68. The cadet organisations have a more comprehensive approach to their responsibilities to duty of care than the Armed Forces because they are subject to child protection legislation. We recommend that MoD consider whether some aspects of the cadet organisations' duty of care arrangements might be appropriate in caring for the youngest recruits to the Armed Services.

Under 18 year olds

69. At 1 April 2004, 6,690 Members of the Armed Forces were under 18 years of age. This represents 3.2 per cent of all Armed Forces' personnel.[122] There is some confusion about whether for those under 18 the Armed Forces act in place of the parent (in loco parentis).[123] Some officers we spoke to certainly felt they acted in loco parentis. MoD told us that the Armed Forces do not act in loco parentis because legally someone between the ages of 16 and 18 is not considered a child if they are in full time employment, and as such the rights and obligations attached to a parent or guardian do not apply to the Commanding Officer of someone under 18 years old.[124] We are not convinced by MoD's argument. Outside the Armed Forces, it would be unusual for full-time employers to have responsibility for a 16 year old employee for 24 hours a day. Whether or not the Armed Forces act in loco parentis, there are additional requirements and additional risks associated with employing those under 18 years old.[125] We are concerned that, by relying on a narrowly legal argument, MoD is not accepting the appropriate responsibility for under 18 year olds in its care. We recommend that MoD formulate policy for care of under 18 year olds as if it acted in loco parentis.

70. DOC (1) recommended that Commanding Officers pay particular attention to the way under 18 year olds are supervised.[126] The records of the working group taking forward DOC recommendations in 2004, refer to the continuing need to clarify the legal position of under 18 year olds in relation to duty of care.[127] Those records include references to specific areas in which the training policy relating to under 18 year olds requires action:

  • Additional supervisory measures.
  • Contact with parents of under 18 year old trainees.
  • Criminal Records Bureau checks on supervisory staff.[128]

MoD state, however, that "the legislation and the need for CRB checks did not apply to those working with Service personnel between the ages of 16 and 18".[129] We are not convinced by MoD's reliance on the legal argument. The recent case of Private Leslie Skinner highlighted the possible consequences of failing to make the most basic checks into an instructors' background.

71. We are concerned that there seems to be an inconsistency in the MoD's approach to Criminal Records Bureau checks for personnel who supervise recruits and trainees under 18 years of age. Best practice must be for MoD to use all available avenues to protect recruits and trainees from unsuitable supervisors and instructors. We recommend that all instructors who will supervise under 18 year olds are subject to Criminal Records Bureau and military records checks before they take up a post in which they will supervise recruits.

72. DOC found that MoD had not developed tri-Service guidance relating to the policy towards under-18 year olds during initial training. In relation to the Army, ATRA has circulated guidelines designed for the civil service although DOC notes that in "basing policies on dealing with under-18s on these extemporized arrangements, the military will not be subscribing to MoD's perception of its wider duties under 'Duty of Care'."[130] We are aware that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff has "set urgent work in hand to address this point".[131]

73. In the past, the special requirements of those under 18 were explicitly acknowledged by the Army, which recruited into training regiments solely comprised of those under 18 years old when they joined the Forces. Having abandoned that policy there is now a range of ages living and working together in initial training establishments. There is evidence that mixing of age groups can present difficulties as there is potential for conflict between mature men and those who are "in their eyes little more than children".[132]

74. When the Armed Forces recruits people under the age of 18, they take on additional responsibilities. DOC found that insufficient effort had been put into ensuring that these are met. We note that 'urgent' work is in hand to provide guidance on the policy relating to under 18 year olds. We consider the lack of current guidance to be a serious failing by MoD.


75. The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association—Forces Help (SSAFA) referred to the special category of recruits who come from local authority care. They emphasised the need not to stigmatise this group and stated that they were not aware of MoD or the Services having a policy to ensure the legislative responsibilities for those leaving local authority care were considered.[133] MoD does not seem to have statistics on the proportion of recruits who are leaving local authority care. Academic research has shown that there is a high incidence, between 50 and 75 percent, of young people in local authority care suffering psychiatric disorders.[134] As a group, care leavers are therefore more likely to be vulnerable, and in civilian life, social workers continue to have access to care leavers up to the age of 21.[135]

76. There would be benefits for the Armed Forces in identifying, for management and pastoral purposes, care leavers entering the Services. Recruitment processes should provide applicants with an opportunity to provide this information.

77. We recommend that MoD investigate whether those who have been in the care of a local authority are at greater risk of duty of care failures in the Armed Forces. We expect MoD to report the findings of that research to us in its response to this report.

78. The Armed Forces need to acknowledge that care leavers should be regarded as a special group with special needs and should take steps to identify and meet those needs. We recommend that the Armed Forces explore the possibility of enabling care leavers to continue to have access to social workers.


79. The three Services have different educational requirements for non-officer recruits. In the Royal Navy all potential recruits have to complete a Recruiting Test (RT). Entry to some branches such as technicians requires GCSEs, or equivalent. In addition to passing the RT, artificer applicants are required to complete two further academic tests. In the RAF, all candidates are required to sit the RAF Ground Trades Test Battery (GTTB) in order to determine the trade or trades for which they are eligible. There are no formal qualification requirements for the majority of Airmen trades although Airmen Aircrew require three specific GCSEs at minimum Grade C.

80. In the Army, applicants take the British Army Recruit Battery (BARB) entrance test irrespective of his or her academic qualifications. The results in the BARB will determine whether an applicant is eligible for Service, and if so the particular form of training, or trade, for which they are qualified. Some trades require additional academic qualifications. Applicants also have to take a basic skills test, BSIA, which can be taken as many times as required but, as with the BARB, applicants must wait a minimum of 28 days between each test.[136] Mrs Farr told us that the Commanding Officer at ITC Catterick had found that a "large percentage" of recruits at the base, had failed the BARB when re-examined.[137]

Basic skills

81. Rear Admiral Goodall told us the Armed Forces recruit across a broad educational spectrum, from those with very basic skills through to post-graduate physicists; and that certain sections of the Army recruited those at the weaker end of the educational spectrum.[138] He told us that "the Army in particular… has a significant problem with basic skills provision."[139] We heard on our visit to Upavon that, compared to the cohort as a whole, a relatively high proportion of recruits to the Army has skills deficits, such as poor literacy and numeracy, or other special needs problems such as dyslexia and dyspraxia.[140]

82. Rear Admiral Goodall told us that "very few" applicants had a reading age of seven, but those with a reading age of 11 were not uncommon.[141] General Palmer confirmed that "probably 30 per cent of those entering the infantry as a trade have a reading age of 11 or less", while MoD's figures suggests 50 per cent of all recruits entering the Service have literacy or numeracy skills at levels at or below Entry Level 3—equivalent to those expected of an 11 year old. MoD states that this is "broadly comparable" with the national average.[142] A survey by MoD, in 2003-04, of recruits at Army Training Regiments (ATRs) found that 41.2 per cent had literacy skills at Entry Level 3 or below; and 47.04 per cent had numeracy levels at Entry Level 3 or below.[143]

83. Since April 2004, applicants with the equivalent of a reading age of a five year old have been rejected. Col Eccles did not consider that that policy would "make a huge difference to the overall composition of our cohorts".[144] We were told that an applicant with "less than an entry level 2 standard (a reading age of a seven year old) of literacy and numeracy… is given a programme of work, probably with a local FE college, and asked to come back when their standard has been raised to at least entry standard level 3 (a reading age of an 11 year old)."[145] The Army accepts applicants at entry level 2. Those applicants are required to do remedial work with the aim of advancing them to at least level 1 early in their training (which equates to a pass at GCSE Grade D to G; or passing a foundation GNVQ, or Level 1 NVQ).[146] About 1 per cent of recruits are at entry level 2; and about 24 per cent at entry level 3.[147]

84. The Minister reminded us that people with basic skills deficiencies can still be bright. He continued: "We have to take from the population which is out there and then make the best of them and judge it on output, not on input". [148] We do not disagree with that opinion. The Armed Forces have been highly effective in taking recruits with little educational achievement and turning many of them into highly trained, capable and successful service personnel.

85. The educational standard of recruits and trainees has a direct influence on their ability not only to do their jobs, but also to access welfare and support information. All three Services provide recruits and trainees with written welfare information and the Armed Forces should be aware of the difficulties some of their personnel may have in assimilating that material. For example, Mrs Farr told us of a dyslexic soldier who had been AWOL, who was given one hour to read a booklet on his rights prior to his court martial.[149]

86. Basic skills deficiencies also have operational implications. We were told that operational literature, such as Rules of Engagement, could be provided in a way that assisted individuals with basic literacy difficulties. We recommend that Armed Forces' training organisations review their literature to recruits to ensure that it is clear and understandable.

Armed Forces remedial work

87. Rear Admiral Goodall confirmed that the Armed Forces have a "basic skills policy and that policy is to screen and apply remedial measures to ensure that within three years… all recruits are at least at national level 1."[150] If a basic skills deficiency is identified in a potential recruit the Careers Information Office will provide them with contacts at local Further Education colleges and approved private providers. Within the training regime Basic Skills training is provided for recruits below level 1, this training takes place during phase 1 training. In the Field Army further basic skills testing and training is provided to ensure all personnel attain a minimum of a level 1 qualification in numeracy and literacy within three years of entry.[151] We consider basic skills training to be essential. The Armed Forces have an opportunity to make use of the time that needs to be spent on basic skills to improve the flow of recruits through initial training. We refer to basic skills training later in this report where we consider the transition from phase 1 to phase 2.

88. Rear Admiral Goodall gave the Committee an example of the remedial work undertaken at ITC Catterick, where recruits are sent on courses provided by Darlington College.[152] He said that of the 307 soldiers who attended those courses in the year to July 2004, on average 60 to 70 per cent had "dyslexia problems, so that is a significant problem on top of the reading age". However, by the end of the course, 40 per cent had gained a qualification at a significantly higher level. He added that those who go through the courses "gain self-confidence, motivation and self-awareness".[153] Despite the Army's commitment to educational standards among recruits and trainees, Col Eccles confirmed that a proportion of those entering the Field Army had significant basic skills deficiencies.[154]

89. We commend the Army for its commitment to remedial educational programmes; although we do not consider lack of educational achievement when entering the Services to be a bar to a successful military career.

90. We recommend that MoD undertake a cost-benefit analysis of remedial educational programmes to determine the benefit of extending their use. We further recommend analysis of the impact of remedial educational programmes on the future careers of Service personnel to determine whether such programmes offer benefits beyond improving basic skills.


91. Health screening aims to identify common or severe treatable illnesses and conditions within a given population. The Armed Forces use a combination of psychometric and personal assessment tests, medical references and interviews. The psychometric test provides information on psychological suitability, which in theory enables the Armed Forces to exclude at the earliest opportunity those not suited to the Services.[155] Psychological screening is used by other organisations with a duty of care to young people to identify individuals at a higher risk of behaviours, such as substance abuse, or self-harm. For example, the Youth Justice Board screens for common or important mental health problems in adolescence, such as alcohol and drug use, traumatic experiences, anxiety, depression and tendency to self-harm. It aims to identify those who have a higher risk of mental health difficulties. Anyone 'screening positive' is interviewed to draw out symptoms of mental health problems in key areas to allow appropriate support and resources to be identified.[156]

92. Pre-existing factors that would normally be taken into account when determining the vulnerability of young people include: poor educational attendance and attainment; a history of local authority care; history of self-harming or bullying; history of abuse, neglect or violence in the home; drug, alcohol or substance abuse.[157] The Armed Forces recruit some young people who come from high risk backgrounds, or who have high risk behaviours. It is important for instructors to appreciate the needs of young people joining the Armed Forces, given the changing nature of society, the profile of recruits and the range of issues they may face. DOC (3) notes the ATRA initiative to obtain the medical histories from new recruits' GPs, which was supported by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).[158]

93. The Surrey Police Final Report recommended screening at the recruitment stage to identify vulnerable people, and putting in place measures to track recruits through their training to identify developing vulnerability.[159] Mr Waterman, President-elect of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, suggested that where circumstances warranted the Armed Forces should be able to extend a psychological tests at the recruitment stage into an ongoing assessment during the training period. He noted that reducing the attrition rate by more effective screening of those not suited to a career in the Armed Forces would release some of the pressure on the supervisory regime. He said:

    it would be worth properly exploring ways in which the initial assessment and evaluation of potential recruits could perhaps be enhanced by improved testing in order to reduce that attrition rate. One of the benefits of doing that is that at a stroke you would address… the ratio of supervisors, because half of the supervisory time is spent supervising people who are not going to end up being transferred into active units.[160]

94. Opinion is, however, divided on the ability of screening to identify early indications of mental health problems in recruits to the Armed Forces; such as depression, or tendencies to self-harm or suicide. Beyond the current psychometric and personality tests, screening designed specifically to identify potential to self-harm or suicide is, according to a number of experts, simply not possible or desirable.[161] Professor Hawton, Director of the Centre of Suicide Research at Oxford University, considered screening at the point of application for a rare event in the future to be verging on the impossible.[162] The application of such testing in the Armed Forces could lead to many being unreasonably excluded from service.[163] Professor Simon Wessley, Director of the King's Centre for Military Health Research at Kings College, London in a lecture on Risk, Psychiatry and the Military explained:

    there were many reasons why screening for psychological vulnerability to breakdown before deployment failed… reasons that remain fundamentally unchanged to the present day. A major risk factor of breakdown is experiencing a traumatic event—but that hasn't happened yet—and may not, so pre-deployment screening is deprived of the best single predictive factor. And what remains are a collection of risk factors, which whilst statistically significant, are all relatively weak predictors of future breakdown.[164]

95. Professor Wessely told us that he had done a considerable amount of work on screening for psychological vulnerabilities in the military and that "there is no shadow of doubt whatsoever" that such screening would fail and moreover "that screening for vulnerability to natural disorders is ineffective and counter-productive".[165] He added that in the military, if one took a simple risk factor such as coming from a broken home "that would eliminate nearly the entire Army".[166] Professor Wessely also referred to a study from World War II which identified the negative impact of psychological screening due to individuals becoming stigmatised.[167] He did consider it possible, and desirable, to identify individuals who may be exhibiting behaviours that would indicate a risk of self-harm or suicide.[168] Such individuals could then be monitored to assess whether additional support was necessary.

96. We acknowledge the limitations of psychological screening for potential recruits. Nevertheless, we recommend that the Armed Forces continue to pursue ways of extending screening used in recruitment in order to improve initial filtering of applicants. We further recommend that MoD consider techniques to identify and monitor Service personnel through their careers in order to determine whether vulnerabilities displayed later in a career can be linked to factors at recruitment or during training. We further recommend that the Armed Forces place a greater emphasis on training supervisors to enable them to better identify those displaying 'at risk' behaviour.

Transition to Service life

97. The transition to service life, which for most young people will be their first taste of being away from home, and being in a disciplined environment, can be traumatic. The ability to cope with that transition will depend on several characteristics, such as the age and maturity of the individual, and their previous experience of discipline. The families that gave evidence to us said that their children had generally enjoyed the transition to Army life during their time in phase 1.[169] Mr Gray told us that when his son had finished phase 1 training "he was much more mature. Physically he was very, very fit. At his passing out parade the Commanding Officer said that they had changed from boys to men, and you could definitely see that in Geoff's case".[170]


98. In 2003-04, of the 35,224 applicants to the Army, 11,018 individuals, 31 per cent, were classed as deferral, failures or withdrawals at the Recruit Selection Centre.[171] For the RAF, 1,532 of the 9,510 applicants, 16 per cent, were rejected on the basis of withdrawals, medical or test score failures, found not suitable at interview and other eligibility criteria. In the Royal Navy, about 20 per cent of applicants fail psychometric and intellectual ability tests; 16 per cent are rejected on the grounds of medical or fitness concerns; and about 15 per cent withdraw before entry.[172] For the Royal Marines, about 40 per cent of applicants are rejected in the course of the medical and fitness tests.



2  Stage in ATRA Pipeline
3  1999-2000
4  2000-01
5  2001-02
6  2002-03 to end July
7  Enquiries to Approved Applicants
8  —
9  —
10  9%
11  6%
12  Recruitment Selection Centre (RSC) Attendance to RSC Passes
13  44%
14  47%
15  39%
16  37%
17  Total phase 1 wastage
18  28%
19  21%
20  20%
21  —
22  Standard (Adult) Entry wastage
23  21%
24  22%
25  19%
26  15%
27  Junior Entry (AFC) wastage
28  23%
29  17%
30  25%
31  —
32  Apprentice Entry (ATFC) wastage
33  35%
34  11%
35  21%
36  18%
37  Total phase 2 wastage
38  3.5%
39  3.4%
40  3.2%
41  3.2%

Source: MoD[173]

99. Table 1 illustrates the levels of wastage at the various stages in the Army's recruitment and training process. In the course of robust training, with the pressures of being away from home and in a new environment, it is understandable that many recruits will consider leaving the Services. In many cases they will decide to stay having spoken to family, friends, other recruits or staff at the training establishment. But for those who decide not to continue there is no benefit to the Services or to the individual if it is difficult to leave. It is unfortunate that we have also heard evidence from the families that suggests individuals have been confused by the 'various rules and regulations' sometimes to a disastrous extent.[174]

100. The number of recruits entering training is not the only measure of the success or failure of the recruitment process. MoD should identify and promote best practice recruitment procedures that have been shown to reduce wastage rates. Wastage costs the Armed Forces money, and has welfare implications for recruits who leave, and their instructors.

101. The recruiting process endeavours to identify and exclude those who are unlikely to be successful in the Armed Forces. Inevitably there will be recruits who do not complete training. They may be unsuited to Service life, become injured, or they may fail to reach the required standards to progress. The training regime should enable as many recruits as possible to succeed. At HMS Collingwood we were told that efforts are made to ensure recruits have an opportunity to remain in training. If necessary recruits are allowed to take an extended period of leave to consider whether they wish to leave permanently. For those who wish to leave the Services the Armed Forces should ensure the process is swift and not disruptive.

102. In phase 1 Royal Navy and RAF recruits are entitled to exercise their Discharge As Of Right (DAOR) having completed 28 days training and up to the completion of six months training. These rights also apply to Army recruits under the age of 18. For Army recruits over the age of 18, DAOR has to be exercised before the completion of three months training. Once that time period has passed the recruit must wait until he has served his minimum period of service to leave.[175] Manpower requirements may influence the readiness of the Services to allow recruits to leave. DOC (1) found that in phase 1 "staff and instructors applied pressure to recruits to dissuade them from leaving, as this reflected on success rates and wastage targets."[176]

103. We are concerned that the period of time available for recruits to exercise their right to leave training (as described previously) is unnecessarily restrictive and may lead to recruits going AWOL. We heard evidence of recruits who wanted to leave the Army outside of this time restriction who, having been refused permission to leave, went AWOL. On their eventual return to their training unit they were put on a charge. Mr James told us of the experience of one particular recruit:

    …there was an article in a newspaper about a boy who was going AWOL from Deepcut. Every time he went back, he was being beaten up….I was put in touch with the boy directly and spoke to him on a number of occasions. The story he told me was quite horrific. So I phoned Ron Laden [Commanding Officer at RLC Deepcut], and I said: "Ron, remember what you told me—the WRVS, the WI, the Army, reputation—your fellows are just knocking hell out of this lad. What are you doing? Why are you doing it?" "Yeah", he said, "but he's useless; he just keeps running away". I said: "But you keep beating him up." "No, no, no," he said, "he just runs away all the time". I said: "Ron, honestly, I have spoken to the boy and if he is no good send him away from the Army. Why are you doing this?"[177]

104. It is counter productive for the Services to keep recruits who have no intention of completing their training. General Palmer seemed to recognise this when he told us that:

    We really do try to stress this point to make sure that people who start training do understand and subsequently, during training, that if they are unhappy, we are running a voluntary organisation and they can leave. There are various rules and regulations, but in my experience no individual who is really unhappy is forced to stay in the training organisation, because it is no good for them, it is no good for us and it upsets some of the people who want to stay.[178]

105. We recognise the significant commitment in terms of resources and time that the Services give to training recruits. We also recognise that the Services are reluctant for recruits to exercise their right to leave training unless they are certain the recruit is making the decision after due consideration. However, we believe that recruits who wish to leave Service training, even if this occurs before four weeks' or after three months' training, should be able to do so after a period of reflection. We believe that it is better for Service men and women to be committed and motivated while training for their chosen career and note the potential risks to the well being of recruits being in the physically and mentally demanding training environment against their will. We recommend that all the Services adopt procedures that allow recruits who express a wish to leave training an opportunity to leave their training establishment and contemplate further before making a firm decision on their future. We recommend that the Armed Forces apply commonsense and understanding while dealing with recruits who ask to leave or are due to be discharged, particularly in respect of recruits who are retained in the Armed Forces solely for purpose of serving out punishments that have been awarded as a result of actions associated with the recruit's wish to leave the Service immediately.

55   Q 39 Back

56   Q 39 Back

57   The Naval Recruiting and Training Agency (NRTA), for example, provide all staff with a booklet - Recruit/Trainee Management of Expectations, FOTR's NRTA Staff Guide - that sets out the importance of managing the expectations of recruits and trainees. Back

58   Ev 246. For 2003-04 the non-officer recruiting targets were: Army 13,833; RAF 4,154; Navy 2,644; RM 1,182. Back

59   Q 10; Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2003-04, Defence White Paper 2003, HC 456-I, paras 133 to 137 Back

60   Ev 246, 254 Back

61   Ministry of Defence, Future Capabilities: Delivering Security in a Changing World, Cm 6269, July 2004, para 3.6 Back

62   HC 456-I (2003-04) pp 47-48 Back

63   Ministry of Defence, Delivering Security in a Changing World: Supporting Essays, Cm 6041-II, July 2004, p 17 Back

64   Cm 6041-II, p 17. HC 456-I (2003-04), pp 47-48 Back

65   Ev 254 Back

66   Ev 235-242 Back

67   BARB-British Army Recruit Battery; PQAP-Personal Qualities Assessment Profile; BSIA-Basic Skills Initial Assessment Back

68   Ev 235-238; DOC (1), Annex D. Back

69   Ev 246-247. About 20 to 25% are rejected at the initial stage. The principal reasons for rejecting information seekers are: under age (11%); over age (4%); not meeting residency requirements (5%); not meeting nationality requirements (3%); asthmatic history (2%). Back

70   Ev 252 Back

71   Ev 239, 246 Back

72   Ev 255-256 Back

73   Ibid Back

74   "I'm your mother now", Culture Shock and the Infantry Recruit, MDA Dissertation Lieutenant Colonel DG Strutt PWRR, Department of Defence Management and Security Analysis, July 2003, hereinafter I'm your mother now, p9. Back

75   Q 408 Back

76   Ibid Back

77   Ev 255-256, see also "I'm your mother now", pp 75-76. Back

78   Ev 391 Back

79   Qq 404, 408, 422, 435. Bullying in Britain: testimonies from teenagers, A Katz, A Buchanan, V Bream, Young Voice, January 2001; Tackling bullying: Listing to the views of Children and Young People, C Oliver and M Candappa, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. See also Risk, Psychiatry and the Military, The 15th Liddell hart Lecture, Professor Simon Wessely, 2 March 2004, hereinafter Risk, Psychiatry and the Military; and Screening for vulnerability to psychological disorders in the military: an historical survey, E Jones, KC Hyams, S Wessely, Journal of Medical Screening, Vol 10, No 1, 2003, hereinafter Screening for vulnerability to psychological disorders.  Back

80   "I'm your mother now", p 76 Back

81   Ev 257 Back

82   Ev 256 Back

83   Ev 348 Back

84   Values and Standards of the British Army, Commanders Edition herinafter Army's Values and Standards, para 2 Back

85   Army's Values and Standards, para 2 Back

86   Q 130 Back

87   Q 236 Back

88   "I'm your mother now", pp66-67 Back

89   Qq 89, 123 Back

90   "I'm your mother now", pp62-63 Back

91   Q 1357 Back

92   ONS: Internet Access Datasets. The DfES Skills for Life survey, October 2003, found that younger respondents had stronger ICT skills than older respondents. 16-19 year olds had stronger practical skills than 20-24 year olds and other groups were significantly more likely to perform at a higher level than the next age group up. See Cm 6041-II, p 18 Back

93   "All guns blazing", The Guardian, 8 February 2005 Back

94   Q 854 Back

95   Q 853 Back

96   Q 39 Back

97   Ibid  Back

98   Royal Navy, Recruit/Trainee Management of Expectations, FOTR's NRTA Staff guide. Back

99   DOC (2), para 22. Back

100   Q 39 Back

101   Q 51, DOC (2), para 22. Back

102   Qq 908-911, 913, 914, 973-978, 980; 1102, 1103, 1110-1114; Ev 369-371 Back

103   Q 1102 Back

104   Q 935 Back

105   Q 39 Back

106   Ibid Back

107   Q 1314 Back

108   Ibid Back

109   Qq 39, 908-911, 913, 914, 973-978, 980; 1102, 1103, 1110-1114; Ev 369-371 Back

110   Q 1316 Back

111   Ev 238-239. For example, in the Army an applicant with a conviction for an offence with a racial element or under the Sexual Offences Act; Street Offences Act; Indecency with Children Act; Protection of Children Act; Sex Offenders Act, will not be considered. Back

112   Ev 388 Back

113   Ev 238 Back

114   Ibid Back

115   Ev 262 Back

116   Ev 241 Back

117   Ev 402-404 Back

118   Ev 472-475 Back

119   Ministry of Defence, Responses to Continuous Attitude Survey 2003, August 2004,, hereinafter Continuous Attitude Survey. Back

120   Qq 909, 910, 916, 1104, 1106 Back

121   Q 1106 Back

122   HC Deb, 20 December 2004, col 1375 W Back

123   Ev 262, 387, 400, 402, 404 Back

124   Ev 262, 421 Back

125   Ev 262 Back

126   DOC (1), paras 29, 30; Ev 346 Back

127   Ev 332ff Back

128   Ev 338 Back

129   Ev 262 Back

130   Ev 342 Back

131   Ibid  Back

132   "I'm your mother now", pp 58, 75. Back

133   Ev 339, 400 Back

134   See Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in young people in the care system, JB McCann, A James, S Wilson and G Dunn, 1996, BMJ, 313, 1529-1530; Meeting the psychiatric needs of children in foster care: social workers' views ,J Phillips, 1997, Psychiatric Bulletin, 21, 609-611; Mental health of children and adolescents in Great Britain. H Meltzer, R Gatward, R Goodman and T Ford, 2000, The Stationery Office. Back

135   Ev 400, 429, 433 Back

136   Ev 239 Back

137   Q 934 Back

138   Q 83 Back

                    Q 83 National Curriculum   Basic Skills Levels
                    GCSE Level A-C Level 2
                    GCSE Level D-G Level 1
                    11 year old Entry Level 3
                    7 year old Entry Level 2
                    5 year old Entry Level 1


140   Ev 242 Back

141   Q 85 Back

142   Qq 85-88, Ev 256-257. The DfES Skills for Life survey conducted in October 2003, found 16% of adults had literacy levels of Entry level 3 or below; 47 % had numeracy skills at Entry Level 3 or below. Back

143   Ev 256-257 Back

144   Q 1310 Back

145   Q 841  Back

146   Qq 841-847 Back

147   Qq 842, 846 Back

148   Q 1302 Back

149   Q 922 Back

150   Q 83  Back

151   Ev 279 Back

152   See Q 850ff, Ev 371 Back

153   Q 851, see Ev 371 Back

154   Qq 1303-1305 Back

155   Qq 168, 404ff, see Ev 240 Back

156   Children and Young People entering the youth justice system are assessed using the Youth Justice Board Assessment Tool, Asset, See also Ev 428ffBack

157   Ev 400, 429, 433. See also The Nature of Adolescence, 3rd Edition,John Coleman and Leo Hendry, Trust for the Study of Adolescence Back

158   DOC (3), para 31, Q 150 Back

159   Ev 421 Back

160   Q 168 Back

161   QQ 408ff. See also Risk, Psychiatry and the Military Back

162   Q 408 Back

163   Ibid Back

164   Risk, Psychiatry and the Military Back

165   Q 408 Back

166   Ibid Back

167   Q 415. See also Screening for vulnerability to psychological disorders in the military Back

168   Q 417 Back

169   Qq 915, 916, 919, 920, 964, 1096,1116-1119 Back

170   Q 1115 Back

171   Ev 246-247. Deferrals refers to those who have not been accepted into the training regime on account of medical or fitness concerns, or circumstances that arose in the Principal Selection Officer interview at the end of attendance at the Recruit Selection Centre. Failures refers to those rejected due to criminal records, outstanding fines and other eligibility criteria. Back

172   Ev 247 Back

173   Written memorandum submitted by MoD to Defence Select Committee, HC 124-I, 1 May 2003. Back

174   Q 39 Back

175   Regulation 7A(3), Army Terms of Service (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999 No. 1610). Back

176   DOC (1), para 40. Back

177   Q 1190 Back

178   Q 39 Back

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