Select Committee on Defence Eleventh Report

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1. On 10 March 2006, we announced an inquiry into the education of the children of Service personnel.[1] Our intention was to examine Service schools overseas and the performance of the Ministry of Defence's agency, Service Children's Education (SCE), which is responsible for providing these schools. We also intended to examine issues affecting Service children in UK state-maintained and independent sector day and boarding schools. The motive for our inquiry was an awareness that the education of their children was a matter of major importance to Service personnel, with implications for retention and even operational effectiveness.

2. As part of our inquiry, on 22-23 March 2006, we visited two SCE schools in Germany: Bishopspark Primary School, Paderborn and King's School, a Comprehensive Secondary School in Gütersloh. During this visit we met students, parents, teachers, military personnel, and SCE officials and discussed the issues facing SCE schools and Service children overseas and at home.

3. On 24 April 2006, we visited two state-maintained schools in Colchester, Essex, both of which have a significant number of pupils who are the children of Service personnel. During our visit to Montgomery Junior School and Alderman Blaxill School we met teachers, Service families and Service children and discussed their experiences of educating Service children.

4. During our visit to Alderman Blaxill School we held a formal evidence session with students who are the children of Service personnel, Service families and teachers.[2] We would like to thank the students and staff of the schools we visited and particularly those at Alderman Blaxill School for hosting our evidence session and for providing such valuable evidence for our inquiry.

5. On 2 May 2006, we took oral evidence at Westminster from the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Don Touhig MP and MoD and SCE officials. Don Touhig left the Government on 5 May 2006 and was replaced as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence by Mr Tom Watson MP. We are grateful to Mr Don Touhig for giving oral evidence.

6. At our third and final evidence session on 13 June 2006, we took oral evidence from the Minister for Schools, Jim Knight MP and a DfES official.

7. We received written evidence from a wide range of organisations, including organisations involved in educating Service children, and from Service parents. We are grateful to everyone who provided oral and written evidence to our inquiry and for helping arrange our visits. We are also grateful to our Specialist Adviser, Brigadier Austin Thorp, who assisted us during this inquiry.

Web forum

  1. Alongside the formal written evidence and oral evidence sessions, we hosted an interactive web forum on educating Service children between 18 April and 26 May.[3] A summary of the themes raised in the forum is included in the Annex to this report. We draw on the contributions to illustrate particular issues that were raised with us in our inquiry. We are grateful to all those who contributed and to the Hansard Society and the Committee Office Scrutiny Unit for their help in establishing the forum.
Web forum statistics
5,000 page hits

115 postings of which:

        -  12 from young people

        -  61 from Service families page

        -  17 from teachers page

        -  25 from schools page

9. At the mid-point of our web forum we heard informally that SCE teachers had been told not to take part in the forum. We wrote to the MoD seeking assurances that this was not the case.[4] In response, the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence, Mr Tom Watson MP, stated that "there is every encouragement for such engagement and I am sorry if the impression has been created that this is not the case".[5] The Minister also stated that in line with long-standing principles, MoD-employed teachers should only comment on personal experiences and not matters of policy. In light of the Minister's positive response to our concerns we decided to extend our web forum for a further two weeks. Activity in the teachers' section of our forum picked up slightly, but remained disappointingly low overall.

10. The web forum provided an opportunity for us to hear the views of, and communicate with, a broad range of people, including those based overseas. We regret that SCE staff and schools were not actively encouraged to participate from the beginning but welcome the MoD's acceptance that there is no reason why MoD employees should not contribute to fora of this kind if their purpose is to relay personal experience rather than comment on Government policy. We consider the forum to have been a valuable experience and we intend to build on this experience in future inquiries.

1 Back

2   For a full list of witnesses see p 57 Back

3 Back

4   Ev 76 Back

5   Ev 77 Back

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Prepared 6 September 2006