Select Committee on Defence Eleventh Report

2  The issues facing Service children


11. The nature of Service life is characterised by frequent postings, and these can place particular pressure on Service families. Operational tours put additional pressure on families in practical and emotional ways. Not least of the pressures facing Service personnel is deciding the most suitable way of educating their children and finding schools which suit them.

12. The Minister for Schools, Jim Knight MP, told us that the three main issues facing Service children were mobility, transfer of student records between schools, and special educational needs.[6] During our inquiry these issues and others were raised as most important by Service families and children. Of central concern were student mobility and the procedures in place to mitigate its impact.

Mobility of Service children

13. Service children of school age, who accompany their parents on postings, experience a high degree of disruption to their education. This is referred to as "Mobility", or "Turbulence". Mobility is usually expressed as the number of pupils arriving or leaving a school at non-standard times as a percentage of the school roll (standard leaving times would be 11 years old for Primary Schools and 16 years old for Secondary schools).[7]

14. Mobility is very high in SCE schools: 82% in SCE primary schools and 58.9% in secondary schools. During our visit to Bishopspark School, Paderborn we were told that its mobility index had reached 113%. It is also high in UK schools serving garrison communities: during our visit to Montgomery Junior School, Colchester, which comprises approximately 90% Service Children, we were told that mobility had reached similar levels.

Mobility: Experience of children
"I have moved probably about 11 times".[8] (a student at Alderman Blaxill School, aged 13)

"I am 11 years old. I have been at this school for about seven months. I have been to about five schools and moved house about 13 times". [9] (a student at Alderman Blaxill School, aged 11)


15. The emotional impact on young people that is caused by mobility can be significant. These effects were described to us by Mrs Carolyn McKay, a Service wife, who told us that her son had experienced such unhappiness at leaving his friends at a previous school that he now guarded himself against making similarly close friendships at his present school.[10] At the same evidence session, young people told us that they had experienced similar difficulties in being accepted by students at schools they had attended.[11]

16. The 2002 Ofsted Report, "Managing Pupil Mobility", recommended ways in which schools could manage the effects of mobility. The Report suggested in particular that schools should forge relationships with parents quickly, gain information on an individual student's attainment quickly and provide them with tailored personal support.[12]

17. Witnesses told us about effective strategies employed by schools to help Service children settle in to their new school. Alderman Blaxill School, which comprises approximately 20% Service students, operates a "buddy system" where pupils are assigned the responsibility of helping new students settle into the school.[13] Bishopspark Primary School in Paderborn, Germany, sets an induction programme for new students which includes familiarisation meetings with parents and a buddy system. Mrs Maria Barber-Riley told us that Montgomery Junior School had provided very good support to her child when he arrived.[14]

18. It can help children if they have some contact with a school before a move. Derek Jones, Assistant Head Teacher, Alderman Blaxill School, told us of his experience of liaising with the Army and Army families overseas with the intention of telling them about the school and the town of Colchester before they were posted there.[15]

19. Moving schools is stressful for all children and frequent moves can have a significant detrimental impact on young people, particularly on their willingness to form friendships with their peers. Some schools have developed imaginative ways to help students settle in to their new schools. We recommend the DfES work with the MoD to develop best practice guidance for schools on helping Service children adapt as smoothly as possible to their new school environment.


20. The Minister for Schools told us that "we know mobility and turbulence have a profound effect on the attainment of children but that it is very difficult to mitigate it".[16] The 2002 Ofsted Report, "Managing Pupil Mobility", stated that secondary schools with high mobility tended to record lower than average pupil results. The report recorded that "almost all schools with mobility above 15% have average GCSE scores below the national average" but noted that "it is difficult to isolate the effect of pupil mobility on attainment because it often occurs alongside other factors, such as disrupted family life".[17] The report also noted that the relationship between mobility and attainment is stronger for children in secondary, rather than primary education.[18]

21. Difficulties are heightened when children move between SCE schools or English Schools and schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each of which follow a different curriculum and a different examination system. Kathryn Forsyth told us that SCE schools had strong links with Scottish schools and procedures in place to mitigate the difficulties of children transferring to Scottish schools:

When children are returning to Scotland, we will send a transcript to show what the child has studied in terms of the English curriculum and we will identify for Scottish teachers areas they may not have covered in such detail according to their own curriculum.[19]

22. We pressed the Minister for Schools about what responsibility the DfES had in respect of students moving between schools in different parts of the UK. He told us:

If the transfer of a child from England to Scotland takes place the responsibility goes from the DfES to the Scottish Executive; if it is a transfer from overseas to Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland it goes to the competent authority in accordance with the devolution settlement.[20]

The Minister also told us, "I am not aware of a dialogue [between devolved bodies, the MoD and DfES] specific to Service children".[21]

Postings to our web forum: impact of mobility on Service children
"Both my children have suffered from postings during GCSE and A level courses, one is a whole year behind their peers" (from a Serving soldier).

"The [education] system in Scotland is so different from that in SCE. We have no links with the Scottish examination system so incoming students had to adjust to our curriculum" (from an SCE-employed teacher).

23. We are very concerned that Service children may be falling between the responsibilities of the DfES and the devolved administrations. They must act in a joined-up way to ensure continuity of education for children moving between the different parts of the UK. This is an area which the DfES needs to address urgently. We also recommend greater contact between the MoD and those in the devolved administrations responsible for education.

24. Mobility can negatively affect a student's educational attainment, particularly in the lead-up to key stages and GCSEs and A levels. We recommend that the DfES work closely with the MoD, SCE and devolved administrations to identify ways to mitigate the impact of mobility.

25. In the longer term, it is to be expected that the end of the Arms Plot, which required the regular relocation of infantry battalions, and the move to rationalise the Defence Estate on "Super Garrisons", will reduce the frequency of moves for Service families. But some mobility is likely to be an enduring feature of Service life.

26. The MoD and local education authorities should begin planning for the impact that the creation of Super Garrisons will have on pupil numbers in schools located near Service bases.


27. The impact on a child's emotional well-being caused by separation from a parent for significant period of time is heightened when that parent is deployed on operations. The young people who gave evidence to us at Alderman Blaxill School told us how unsettling it could be when their parents were on operational tours and of the difficulties that could arise when they returned. One of them told us:

Sometimes it is scary because he does not seem to be the same person he was when he left because he has got to get over what he has been through out there and obviously we changed an awful lot in the seven months he has been out there.[22]

28. Mr Anthony Evans, a serving soldier currently based at Colchester, told us that when he went on operational tours the behaviour of his children changed markedly. One child would become quick-tempered and the other would become apathetic.[23] Mr Evans attributed these changes in behaviour to the fact that he was away from home so often.[24] At Montgomery Junior School we were told that the behaviour of pupils sometimes deteriorated when their parents were on operational tours.

29. Frequent communication with a parent can help. Some of the students at Alderman Blaxill were children of Service personnel in the 16 Air Assault Brigade, currently deployed in Afghanistan. They told us that communication from Afghanistan was difficult and restricted to three "e-blueys" per week and that a telephone connection with Afghanistan would not be set up until June.[25]

30. Communication was cited when we invited parents at Alderman Blaxill to suggest a single improvement they would wish for from the MoD. Mrs Carolyn Mackay, whose husband was serving in Afghanistan, told us:

My wish on behalf of my children would be that there were more satellite telephones. Not that they had longer, I am not asking for more minutes, just for more phones. You were asking the children earlier on about speaking to dad and there are 200 men queuing for one telephone. I am not asking for more money, just more phones.[26]

31. We pressed the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence on the communications provision for operational deployments. The MoD's second memorandum states that it is committed to providing within one month of deployment: 1 telephone for 50 people (20 minutes per call per week) and Internet terminals (for the use of email) provided at a ratio of 1 to 100 people, and free regular postage facilities.[27] The MoD states that this level of provision has now been established in Afghanistan.

32. We note the importance of regular communications between deployed Service personnel and their families. Young people can feel particular anxiety during this time and their educational attainment and general well-being can be affected. The provision of communication facilities, and the regular opportunity to use them, can help both Service personnel and their families maintain their morale during operational tours.

Special educational needs

33. During our inquiry we heard from Service parents about the particular difficulties facing those of them with a child with Special Needs.

34. The Education Act 1996, states that children have Special Educational Needs (SEN) if:

they have a significantly greater difficulty learning than the majority of children of the same age or have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in schools within the area of the local authority.[28]

The 1996 Act stipulates that LEAs have a duty to identify, assess and make provision for children with special needs and to keep their arrangements for doing so under review.[29] The provision of support for children with special needs is graduated from support provided within a school, known as School Action and School Action Plus to 'Statementing' where support is provided by special needs specialists, often drawn from external resources. Statements are based on specialist reports from an education psychologist, health and social care professionals and others and set out in detail the special educational provision to be made for a child. Once a Statement is made, the 1996 Act requires the relevant Local Authority to arrange the special educational provision specified in it.[30]

35. The submission by Wiltshire County Council suggests that approximately 5% of Service children in Wiltshire have Statements of special educational need, compared with an overall level of approximately 2.1%. We have also received some anecdotal comment that a higher proportion of Service children have special needs compared to the general population, but this cannot be verified owing to the absence of reliable data.[31]

36. At our evidence session in Colchester, Service parents of children with Special Needs complained to us that Statements were not transferable between schools, or between UK schools and SCE. Schools were obliged by LEAs to reassess students on arrival from schools outside the LEA. Mrs Heather Wheeler, a Service wife, told us:

You might be getting to the root of a problem with a child who has had an on-going problem and then you are posted elsewhere and have to go through the whole rigmarole again.[32]

Mrs Maria Barber Riley told us:

My experience with regard to special needs—my son has special needs—has been quite poor on the whole with regard to having to move round different counties and trying to get a statement of educational needs. You have to start the whole process over again depending on which county you are in.[33]

Mrs Michelle Dunn told us that the process could take "anything between six months and two years".[34]

37. Teachers at Montgomery Junior School told us that the speed of assessments varied greatly between local education authorities, depending on the resources available. They described an instance where a child with Special Needs had not been assessed by an educational psychologist until almost two years after joining school.

Postings to our web forum: children with special educational needs
"The number of children who have lost their Statements never ceases to amaze me." (Head Teacher of UK Primary School)

38. The Minister for Schools conceded it was possible that schools with large numbers of Service children lacked a strong enough incentive to go through the Statementing process due to the high mobility associated with Service children.[35] On the other hand, he assured us that 92% of statements were produced within the statutory 18 weeks.[36]

39. When we questioned the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defence, Mr Don Touhig MP, about the problems faced by Service children with special needs, he told us:

I have a passion about us doing something better for special educational needs and, indeed, have been talking to my officials about the possibility of a 'Statementing passport'… it would clearly involve the very close collaboration and support of other departments, DfES in particular, to do that.[37]

40. We put the idea of a "Statementing passport" to the Minister for Schools. He thought it was "an interesting idea" but cautioned that procedures would have to be in place to ensure statements were updated regularly. He had particular concerns about the low number of educational psychologists which can be called on by SCE schools.[38]

41. The Education and Skills Committee has recently concluded an extensive inquiry into Special Educational Needs.[39] Its report identifies problems with the procedures for supporting all children with Special Needs and makes a number of recommendations for improving the support mechanisms. The evidence we received in our inquiry suggests that these difficulties are compounded for Service children with special needs owing to the frequency with which they move schools.

42. The difficulties experienced by some Service families in getting their child assessed by an educational psychologist for Statementing purposes and the consequent delays in the provision of support to those children is unacceptable. Schools and local authorities should give the needs of Service children with Special Needs equal priority to those of any other child.

43. We are concerned at the evidence we have received that SCE lacks sufficient numbers of educational psychologists. We call upon the MoD to ensure that SCE schools are able to call on the services of accredited educational psychologists within a reasonable time.

44. We recommend that the DfES and the MoD consider introducing, as a priority, a system whereby Service children with Special Needs are given a Statement of educational needs which can be taken with them as they move between schools, and is accepted by schools as the basis for support which they will provide. The Statement should be time-limited and reviewed regularly.

45. We note the former Defence Minister's tentative suggestion of a "Statementing passport" for Service children with special needs. We recommend that the feasibility of a Statementing passport be explored further by his successor.

Support for Service parents

46. During our inquiry, we were told by Service parents about the importance of good quality advice and information about the educational opportunities available to their children. The MoD's submission states that advice for parents is available from "a network of resources including HIVE,[40] Service websites, the Service Families Federations and the MoD website" and that "lead responsibility falls to the Children's Education Advisory Service".[41]

47. The CEAS is part of the MoD and reports to the Adjutant General. Its role is to "provide information to Service parents on schooling in the United Kingdom and abroad". During our inquiry we received some positive feedback regarding the CEAS but, during our visits to SCE schools and schools in Colchester, we became aware that many of the parents we met had not heard of the CEAS and the service it provides.

48. Brigadier Brister, Director, Educational and Training Services (Army), recognised that the profile of the CEAS was a problem:

In terms of CEAS and the awareness of what it has to offer within the Services, certainly we are acutely conscious that there are still some people who are not aware of what is on offer and we will address that.[42]

We asked Brigadier Brister why the CEAS offered a primarily telephone-based advice service to parents and had such a limited web-based presence. Brigadier Brister recognised the advantages that an accessible website could have and told us that he was hopeful that a new improved website would go live by the end of May.[43] We note that an improved website went on-line shortly before the end of our inquiry at the beginning of July. We believe that it would benefit from further improvement.

49. Service parents need reliable and accessible information when making key decisions about their child's education. We note the positive feedback we received from parents who had used the Children's Education Advisory Service but also the low profile of the CEAS amongst the Service parents we met. We recommend that the MoD provide the necessary resources to raise the profile of the CEAS amongst Service families so that it can provide its important advice service to a larger number of Service parents.

50. We believe that in today's information age, a website is an essential conduit for information between organisations and clients. We recommend that the MoD provide the CEAS with the necessary resources for an effective and visible website and that it do so speedily.

6   Q 320 Back

7   Ev 60, para 17 Back

8   Q 10 Back

9   Q 13 Back

10   Q 123 Back

11   Q 22 Back

12   Ofsted Report, Managing Pupil Mobility, March 2002 Back

13   Q 25 Back

14   Q 140 Back

15   Q 156 Back

16   Q 357 Back

17   Ofsted Report, Managing Pupil Mobility, March 2002, page 7 Back

18   Ibid., page 6 Back

19   Q 284 Back

20   Q 339 Back

21   Q 341 Back

22   Q 46 Back

23   Q 144 Back

24   Q 145 Back

25   Deployed Servicemen are entitled to a free aerogramme to send to friends and families, commonly referred to as a bluey. An e-bluey is the electronic version of this and is similar to a conventional e-mail  Back

26   Q 152 Back

27   Ev 74  Back

28   Education and Skills Committee, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Special Educational Needs, HC 478, Ev 11, para 7 Back

29   Ibid., Ev 11, para 12 Back

30   Education and Skills Committee Report, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Special Educational Needs, HC 478, Ev 11, para 14 Back

31   Ev 97, para 2 Back

32   Q 123 Back

33   Q 106 Back

34   Q 110 Back

35   Q 367 Back

36   Q 366 Back

37   Q 196 Back

38   Q 363 Back

39   Education and Skills Committee Report, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Special Educational Needs, HC 478 Back

40   The HIVE information service is a tri-Service information network, providing information on a range of welfare issues to all Service personnel  Back

41   Ev 68 Back

42   Q 242 Back

43   Q 241 Back

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