Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Analysis of socio-economic and educational background of non-officer recruits


The socio-economic background of Soldier recruits.

  It is a generally accepted truth that the Army recruits most of its soldiers from the lowest socio-economic groups in the country. The status of a soldier, while often admired, has never been high, and joining the Army has always been seen as a good option for young people with few qualifications or difficult pasts.

  Despite the general acceptance that the Army recruits its soldiers from the lowest socio-economic groups, there is very little evidence to substantiate this belief. While all potential recruits are interviewed extensively throughout the recruiting process, and a lot of what might be broadly called `social' information is obtained on ad hoc forms and in records of interviews, none of this available information has in the past been formally analysed. The information collected includes such things as general background, parents occupation, employment history, education achievements and where the applicant has lived in the past. This information is not formally analysed, or collected in any set format.

  The only information that can be analysed easily is that which is entered on TAFMIS (ATRA's in house IT facility) during the recruiting process. The TAFMIS fields capable of recording information relevant to which socio-economic group an individual may come from are educational qualifications, and whether an individual was unemployed at the time of his or her application.

  While roughly 45% of all young people leave school with 5 GCSE subjects graded A-C only, 17% of all Army recruits in 2003-04 had English at A-C level, with the figure for Maths at about 10%. On average Army recruits have 0.9 of a GCSE at grade A-C. These figures must be treated with some caution as some records may not have been filled in correctly in those instances where a soldier did not need a qualification for their particular trade. However, it is possible to say that the educational qualifications of soldiers is considerably below the national average. Records also show that 24% of all Army applicants in 2003-04 were unemployed for a significant period before applying.

  In 1999-2000, research was undertaken into the socio-economic background of Army recruits in the Cardiff catchment area. Five hundred recruits who joined the Army between 1998 and 2000 were interviewed, and their records analysed. The analysis illustrated the following:

    69% were found to have come from a broken home.

50% were classified as coming from a deprived background.

16 % had been long term unemployed before joining.

35% had had more than eight different jobs since leaving school (nearly all on a casual basis). Just over 60% had left school with no academic qualifications.

40% were joining the Army as a last resort.

70 of the recruits had more than five GCSE grades at A-C, and roughly 30% of all recruits were exceptionally motivated and qualified young people who had wanted to join the Army for a long time.

  This is only one sample, but it probably gives a rough snapshot of the socio-economic background of soldiers.

  The lack of detailed information on the socio-economic background of recruits is acknowledged and is now being addressed. The next version of TAFMIS has been programmed to collect different, and relevant information.

Educational background

  The Army has a long tradition of working with Basic Skills (BS) needs among recruits. However, the increasingly competitive labour market and the need for a multi-skilled workforce capable of responding flexibly to changing demands and roles have brought the Army's BS issues into sharper focus in recent years. Latest Army research suggests that up to 50% of all recruits joining the Service have literacy or numeracy skills at levels at or below those expected of an 11 year old (ie Entry Level 3 or below). This is broadly comparable with the recent national Skills for Life survey conducted by DfES (October 2003).

Basic skills levels comparison table

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

Random sample of 4,265 recruits at ATRS in 2003-04 showing basic skills levels

Entry Level 1
Entry Level 2
Entry Level 3
Level 1


  This is not to say that all soldiers are illiterate or innumerate. The vast majority of those with literacy or numeracy difficulties have them in particular areas and not across the board. BS underpin the ability of an individual soldier to absorb and re-use information, both in initial training and subsequently on operations. At its simplest, if a soldier is unable to take legible notes, from verbal instructions, and then to refer back to those notes in order to guide his actions then he is unlikely to be able to play a fully useful part in his/her team.

  The scale of the BS problem combined with the Government's drive to raise adult literacy and numeracy levels have warranted the development of a cross-Army BS Improvement Model to tackle the challenges. The Army is committed to establishing a system of basic skills provision that meets the needs of all Army personnel, wherever they are stationed.

  The Army's on-going programme of review and experimentation with "workplace" action has seen a number of initiatives being put in place or planned for implementation in the very near future, in particular:

    —  Initial assessment of the literacy and numeracy levels of all recruits is carried out during early training. Fuller diagnostic provision and BS support tailored to individuals' needs and preferences are being put in place across the Service. From April 2004, initial assessment is to be conducted at recruiting offices, before candidates are selected and enlisted. From the same time, those candidates with literacy or numeracy skills assessed at Entry Level 1 and below will be deferred. They will be offered advice and directed to local FE colleges and approved private providers to seek tailored BS support. Deferred candidates may re-apply once their skills are shown to be at Entry Level 2 or above.

    —  A wide range of learning opportunities is available through in-house provision delivered via the Army's extensive network of 33 Army Education Centres (AECs) and over 100 ICT-based learning centres in the UK and overseas (including a virtual learning centre). Learners can access the paper-based national BS tests through AECs. By Spring 2004, access to on-line tests will be available across the ICT network.

    —  42 Army locations are supported by qualified Basic Skills Tutors (BSTs), recruited to manage/deliver in-house provision and to co-ordinate external BS services (eg from FE Colleges, and private providers) for Army personnel. Support is also being extended through networks of local BS volunteers and mentors. A programme of BS awareness training for all AEC and associated staff is making for an integrated BS service and specifically aids the effective introduction of learner referral systems.


  The majority of the analysis of recruits' backgrounds is based upon study of the recruiting criteria set out at Ev 236-8 and is aimed towards predicting success in training or in informing the social requirements of trainees (eg age and marital status). Examples are set out below:

Age of RAF Ground Support Trades Recruits Entering Basic Training
Serial No
1 April 2001-
31 March 2002
1 April 2002-
31 Mar 2003
1 April 2003-
31 March 2004

Under 16½
26 and over

  Little other analysis of recruits' backgrounds is carried out; however, the RAF Brand Audit, completed last year, analysed the youth cohort and its aspirations to give the Service a clearer picture of who the Service appealed to and how to improve its promotion. Seven discrete areas for further work were identified falling from the Brand Audit work. The first of these is an objective to look at the backgrounds of those we have recruited in a "customer relationship management" context with a view to optimising our recruiting and training performance. Because of the resource implications of this work, we are investigating taking it forward on a tri-Service basis.


  The Royal Navy/Royal Marines are an Equal Opportunities Employer. All Applicants, having satisfied Eligibility Criteria, are assessed on individual merit and irrespective of their gender, sexuality, racial or cultural background, social or educational history, etc. The Naval Service is interested only in the potential of candidates to respond successfully to the demands of training and Naval life. Limited data are collected but have not yet been analysed, and cannot be provided in the time available. These include for example: age, marital status, religion, educational qualifications, type of school attended, and previous membership of uniformed organisations.

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Prepared 14 March 2005