The Armed Forces Covenant in Action? Part 3: Educating the Children of Service Personnel - Defence Committee Contents

3  Continuity of education

Continuity of education

60. As we have already illustrated, a continuous theme of the evidence taken from families, their representatives and from the Committee's on-line survey is concern over the lack of continuity of education for the children of Service families. We heard evidence from families, submitted on their behalf by the Army Families Federation, and from contributions to our on-line survey. Examples of the comments we received are given in Box 3 below:

Box 3: Concerns of Service families about continuity of education
My husband is serving in the armed forces and we have two children. Four years ago, having watched our eldest son struggle with different curriculum and teaching methods in schools both in the UK and in Germany, we decided that he had endured as many changes in schools as he could cope with. He was missing vital steps in learning and was coping with different teaching methods guided by different Local Authorities. An example of this was when he learnt cursive writing in Year R in Kent and then this did not follow on in Germany in the same way, and again was different when we returned to the UK. We also had concerns about his progress.

Over the past two years not only have my son's grades dipped quite dramatically but his self-esteem seems to have been affected too. I believe this is due to the frequent school moves and lack of stability.

My husband and I have moved eight times over 13 years. Most of these moves have been big ones: Germany-Yorkshire-Glasgow-Swindon-Germany etc, making settling in one location with husband commuting impossible. Our last two postings only required us to move 50 miles. I kept my job and commuted but DIO policy meant that we had to move houses so even a small move would have meant a school move for my children. And even if we had not moved, who knows where we will go next meaning our children need to stay where they are to guarantee continuity of education.

"I have been to lots of primary schools before I was sent to boarding school. I was finding it hard to make new friends again and again but since going to boarding school I have made friends that I will have for the rest of my schooling." Service child, Army

Source: Army Families Federation and NAO on-line survey[94]

61. Some parents expressed concern that mobility meant children did not always complete the curriculum. We heard evidence from a number of sources that children miss parts of the curriculum and repeat others. While schools must teach certain subjects as part of the syllabus, it is up to individual schools when they cover a particular topic. This can be exacerbated if children move between the Devolved Administrations and England.

62. The MoD's guidance explains that children can start school for the first year of their statutory education at different times in Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to England and Wales. This can have a knock-on effect regarding the year group to which children may be admitted. There are also differences between the Administrations about when children move between phases of education, for example moving between primary and secondary schools.[95] Catherine Spencer said:

      It is also to do with the curriculum, because there are differences between [...] the age at which you start school in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England, so that can cause difficulties as well; you may find children jumping up or down. We have numerous reports of children finding that they have moved schools and then, maybe at the end of key stage 2, they have studied the Vikings three times but they have never done the Romans, so they miss chunks of education. One of the things that could mitigate that is making sure that the curriculum lays down more what is taught in each term, but that will not suit every school because of resources.[96]

Students at the Wellington Academy told us of their experiences, see Box 4 below:

Box 4: Experiences of students on their education in moving schools
When I first came here I found it really easy because when I was back in Nepal we had already covered all the stuff.

I only did up to year 9 in Jamaica, which is equivalent to year 10 in England because there is a year difference in the school year, but the education, what I had done in year 9 was all of the year 11 syllabus. So, basically, when I came here it was like just getting the qualification, not really getting the teaching. [...]

Boring? Well, it was nice at times because everyone in the class was—because they have to put you in the lower set. I was supposed to be above everyone in the class. Basically, when they gave me the exam papers just to see 95 per cent on it, it was like, "Okay". I already knew the stuff, but, yes, still it is 95 per cent.

Source: Evidence to Defence Committee [97]

63. Variation in schools' teaching styles was also highlighted as adding additional pressure on how Service children adapt and cope in their new schools. Contributors to our on-line survey told us of:

      "The pressure placed upon Service children to conform to the new and/or different teaching expectations of the different schools they are placed in. This can be found in young children learning to write (differing writing styles between schools) through to high school pupils having to catch up very quickly with differing syllabus." Service parent, Royal Air Force[98]

64. MoD guidance provided to parents acknowledges these difficulties:

      Individual schools decide within year groups and Key Stages when to deliver the required components of each national curriculum. For mobile Service children, this can mean that they either repeat and/or miss out parts of their required studies; whilst schools must work with them and their families to ensure that any gaps are properly covered, this can place additional burdens on such children, in addition to any emotional turmoil they may experience through their mobility or a loved one's deployments.[99]

65. We recognise that as a result of mobility children encounter difficulties in the consistency of their education. When moving mid-year pupils can repeat topics, for example. Evidence also suggests some children may not be academically stretched as much as they should be. We recommend that under the New Employment Model, Future Army 2020, and Future Force 2020, the MoD undertakes to minimise, as far as possible, moves during the school year, and restricts, wherever possible, the movement of whole units to an appropriate time in the academic year.


66. Parents' concern over the lack of continuity and the emotional difficulties frequent moves may cause their children lead many Service families to take the decision, which many find difficult, to send their children to boarding school.

      I believe that sending our son away to school was the most difficult decision we have ever had to make as parents and one we did not take lightly, but I do feel this was the right decision for our son. The stability that boarding school offers has alleviated anxieties on us as parents as we know that our son will now continue to have continuity of education and reach his full potential academically.[100]

And a response to our on-line survey was:

      My child is now in boarding school so the negative impacts have been minimised. That said, the impacts on the wider family of having to board should not be ignored. Boarding has been a decision based on a balance of achieving continuity in education against the 'loss' of our child from the family home - a significant concern that has produced immense pressure. Service parent, Army[101]

67. The MoD advises parents to send children of secondary age to boarding school:

      At the secondary stage of education the appropriateness of local provision changes. Schools outside the UK work towards different examinations and qualifications and parents should be prepared to consider the option of sending their older children to a boarding school in the UK. The potential difficulties for a student in the middle of an examination course, if appropriate, transferring back to the UK from the education system of another country, cannot be overstated. For this reason, boarding (either in the UK or at an SCE school) is recommended for children who would otherwise be returning to the British system in the final year of Key Stage 3 or beyond.[102]

Continuity of Education Allowance

68. Service families who choose to send their children to boarding school to provide continuity in education can apply for financial assistance from the MoD. This assistance is called the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA).

69. The MoD told us that there were two main principles associated with eligibility for CEA: accompanied service and educational continuity. CEA is available to any serving personnel, and is available for children of 8 years of age until the end of the academic year in which they reach the age of 18. Service personnel can claim up to a maximum of £6,147 per child per term in the current financial year.[103] The rates vary according to whether the child is a junior or senior boarder, and if they are boarding or at day school. Parents must pay at least 10 per cent of the school fees, and any fees in excess of the sum of the 10 per cent allowance and the CEA allowance maximum.[104]


70. In our on-line survey families told us that they relied on the CEA to provide continuity:

      "The CEA has allowed our children the continuity and security that they need in their education, particularly for the son with dyslexia. No matter where we moved, the boys have always had their friends at school and the familiarity of the staff and the establishment. This has been very important during my husband's numerous deployments." Service parent, Army

      "CEA remains absolutely critical if Service children are not to be disadvantaged by the regular location moves. If you want a contented serviceman/woman prepared to serve their country without distractions you need to offer something like CEA to those that need it." Service parent, Royal Navy[105]

71. We heard evidence that CEA plays a part in the retention of personnel. In evidence submitted by the Army Families Federation, a Service parent said:

      I feel that choosing the boarding school option was the most difficult decision that we have had to make in life so far. If the Continuity of Education Allowance had not been available, then I think that my husband would have considered leaving the Army. The impact of mobility would have been too great on our children's education as we have moved 15 times in 22 years so far. [106]

      "CEA (Board) is necessary to allow my child stability during their secondary education if I am to continue to serve as flexibly as the Service requires. Any reduction in CEA would cause me to question my continued service in the military because while mobility is key to a productive career it must not be at the expense of my family life. They put up with enough disruption (willingly) but I would not tolerate cuts that impacted my child's chances of achieving her full potential academically. I would also not be prepared to pursue a career that required me to live away from my family, perhaps only seeing them at weekends."[107]


72. In October 2011 the then Minister for the Armed Forces announced the conclusions of a review into the CEA. Following that review the MoD maintained the core principles of CEA, though there were some improvements to governance and tightening of rules on eligibility for CEA.[108] The review led to concerns amongst Service families about their entitlement to CEA and the longer term effect on their children's education. Parents said:

      The process to get CEA is difficult and constantly changing. Service parent, Army [109]

      The CEA rules need to be relaxed. When one child is in receipt of CEA the other child(ren) should not be disadvantaged by constantly having to move to fulfil a set of very archaic and poorly thought through rules. Service parent, Army [110]

      I have seen children's education and therefore their potential long term prospects destroyed by SDSR due to withdrawal of CEA and unexpected moves.[111]

73. The MoD told us:

A complete re-write of the CEA policy is underway in order to make the regulations more easily understood by the recipients and more easily governed by the CEAGT (Continuity of Education Allowance Governance Team).[112]

We asked the MoD whether this current re-writing of the rules around CEA would mean further changes or cuts in the payments or entitlement to them. We were assured that it would not and that the re-writing of the rules was a matter of clarification and not a major change of policy.[113] Gavin Barlow said:

      What we are talking about is clarification of the rules set. There have been a number of changes incrementally since the SDSR, including the one I just mentioned about withdrawal, some of which is being dealt with in defence information notices and so on. That has contributed to a situation where we want to rewrite the whole thing so that it is easier to understand and is really clear. It is part of the work we are doing generally on our allowances to make them more readily accessible and understandable.[114]

74. Staff at Wellington Academy told us that applications for CEA at post-16 were being turned down 'quite a lot'. The staff also said that applications for funding at A-Level have to be made before students finished their GCSEs

      Obviously we know at post 16 it seems to be turned down quite a lot. We are finding that if somebody applies at A-Level then they are not going to get the funding, yet they have been with us for five years, or been somewhere else and they want to leave to move to this area. They know they are going to be posted halfway through their A-Levels, but if they don't apply before they finish their GCSEs they are probably not going to get it at A-Level. We find that sometimes if they are going to be posted, they are a day pupil, they may not get it for the second year of A-Levels or the second year of their BTech course, which means they have to transfer, go somewhere else, and obviously it is quite difficult, I think, because we are matching exam boards, schools have different option groups, are they going to fit in, are their options going to fit, which then could affect university choices.[115]

We received some evidence questioning the value of the CEA. Parents told us in evidence submitted on their behalf by the RAF Families Federation that:

      We made a lifestyle choice which requires me to commute but has enabled our children to attend a first rate grammar school at no cost to us or to the military. In contrast I see many others placing their children in a fee-paying school. [...]there is an adequate state boarding system - it should be the ONLY option for CEA. I recognise that my views may be controversial but I believe I have a reasonably balanced view based on my personal and professional experiences.[116]

      Whilst we recognise that this particular allowance is an emotive one which generates much debate and discussion, we seek to remind those involved, [...] of the fundamental purpose of the allowance. That is to ensure continuity of education for those Service children who might otherwise be affected because they are a member of a military family. It is never an easy decision to place a child into the boarding school system, and there are long-term financial implications for the family, but it is one that many parents have to take to ensure that their child(ren) get the best start possible.[117]

75. Maintaining continuity in their children's education is a major concern for parents. We support the principle of paying CEA to those families who choose to send their children to boarding school to provide continuity. The MoD should clarify the rules on CEA and reassure Service personnel that entitlement to CEA is not under further review and will not change at short notice.


76. There has been a significant reduction in the number of claimants of CEA since 2009­10. Gavin Barlow said this resulted from:

      the reduction in overall numbers of Service personnel over that period, and also with the changes to the involuntary separation rules, which probably account for several hundred of the reduction in claimants, but the number is about where we would expect it to be at the moment, given the trends in take-up of the allowance and the impact of the rule changes that we have put in place. I would refer also to much more careful governance within all the Services, which have all looked at their CEA claimant community carefully to make sure that all the claims are well founded and properly documented. During that process, a number of people have withdrawn from claiming the allowance who perhaps did not meet those standards, and some others are perhaps more reluctant to put themselves forward as well, but it continues to support well over 4,000 claimants. The allowance is very well used and needed by the Service community.[118]

77. During the inquiry we heard evidence that the rate of take-up of CEA remained lower amongst lower paid ranks. The MoD told us:

      The overall CEA claimant community currently comprises 2,476 Officers (60%) and 1,631 Other Ranks (40%); a ratio that has remained relatively unchanged during the period under scrutiny. Although the ratio of Officer to Other Rank claimants is around 1.5:1, the proportion of claimants within each group is significantly different. Officer claimants represent 8.3% of all serving Officers (30,010) whereas Other Rank claimants represent only some 1.1% of all serving Other Ranks (145,930).[119]

78. Gavin Barlow explained the differences in the rate of claimants between the ranks:

      That very much reflects the demographic of the Service community. Most of the junior ranks will not have school-age children, whereas you will find that not all, but the majority of those who serve with school-age children—for CEA purposes, children aged over eight—will be senior non-commissioned officers, or officers. I think the peak—the largest block of claimants—is round about Captain/Major level. That is where the demographic peaks, but that is just representative of the nature of the Service community as a whole, rather than an idea that it might be in some way an officers' allowance or something of that nature, because it is not. It is available to all Service personnel who meet the mobility requirements and have children of the relevant age, if they wish to have it.[120]

Nevertheless, we heard evidence that they may still be a lack of awareness of the allowance among lower ranks:

      The only reason we got brought on to it is because at the time I was working at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy and there was a lot of officers who had children who seemed to take advantage of it but there was not very many soldiers. I do not know if it was to do with the cost or money, because obviously that subsidises quite a lot of the cost. However, I think the majority of it was because the soldiers were not possibly aware that they could do it.[121]

Staff at the Wellington Academy expressed the view that boarding is seen as something officers traditionally did:

      My point about ordinary soldiers is that it appears as slightly alien, it is an alien concept. It is possibly an alien concept to ordinary people, boarding, boarding schools. It has this sort of connotation, so I think there is a lot more that could be done about that. Then we will fill our places, so we don't want to advertise it too well, because there aren't many places left anyway. There are hardly any places in state boarding anyway.[122]


79. During the inquiry we found a lack of awareness of the state boarding school system. Andy Schofield, the Principal at the Wellington Academy, said:

      I think there is a point here about the strength of the state boarding system, which I am a strong advocate of. We have 35 boarding schools and it is a bit of a Cinderella element.[123]

80. The cost of tuition at state boarding schools is met by the state, so Service families would be required to contribute only to the boarding costs. This could help those who may find the cost of contributing 10 per cent of the fees a disincentive, or who may find a state rather than independent school a more acceptable option.

81. Evidence from the State Boarding Schools Association said that by September 2013 there would be 37 state boarding schools. The Association said that there were fewer Service children at state boarding schools than might be expected, as less than 10 per cent of boarders at state boarding schools were Service children in receipt of CEA.

82. The Association suggested possible reasons why this might be the case, including the difficulty of entering a child for a selective entrance examination if the family are located abroad, that applications had to made in autumn but notice of a place not given until spring, and independent schools offered places before Christmas. The Association also expressed the view that a lack of funding for the maintenance of the schools may make them less attractive to parents.[124]

83. The Ministry of Defence should ensure that all Service personnel are aware of the availability of the Continuation of Education Allowance. It should also advertise more effectively the existence of the state boarding schools.

Safe-guarding children

84. Issues regarding the safety of children at an independent school were brought to our attention during the course of this inquiry. We were surprised to learn that parents' continuing entitlement to CEA depended on value judgements by the MoD in such cases. We asked the MoD for clarification of their role, as there are occasions when parents might reasonably want to move their children to another school. For example, we were made aware of issues regarding a change in entitlement to CEA where there were concerns about abuse in a school. The MoD's role in decisions on entitlement to CEA when parents wish to move their children in such cases was not clear.

85. The MoD view is that the purpose of CEA is to ensure continuity of education. Gavin Barlow said:

      But clearly if the Service parent wants to make use of continuity of education allowance, there is an expectation from us that that is there to provide educational continuity. So there is a fairly high bar on Service parents committing to that at the outset and maintaining it. But clearly if there is a good reason for moving a child, that is possible.[125]

86. Following two evidence sessions at which questions regarding the protection of children were raised the MoD provided further information.[126] However, the information provided lacks clarity and it is difficult to relate the figures to other information provided. For example it is unclear how many cases have been brought to the attention of CEAS, and when and for how long schools have been removed from the MoD database. There is a lack of robust procedure and guidance in place to ensure families have the confidence to remove children where there is a child protection concern.

87. The MoD told us that a re-write of the rules would clarify the position:

      The CEA regulations are currently being re-written in line with the outcome of the Ministerial Review of CEA conducted in 2011 and the following wording will be included:

      If the child is in immediate danger or there is a safeguarding issue, the child may be withdrawn immediately and advice may be sought from CEAS and casework submitted as soon as possible retrospectively."[127]

We note that the revised 'reasons for Changing School during a Stage of Education which may be acceptable in certain circumstances' does not include child protection issues.[128] This omission should be rectified in the current revision of the regulations.

88. The safety and well-being of children is paramount and the rules should not hinder movement of pupils in cases where, for example, there have been suggestions of abuse. The MoD should clarify the rules on CEA and its role in the decision-making process when parents wish to move their children to another school during a key stage of education. We recommend that in principle the MoD should be more prepared to leave to parents the difficult judgement of when to move a child; while it is axiomatic that a "Continuity of Education Allowance" is designed to provide continuity, the name of the allowance should not be a major barrier to the parents deciding what is best for their child.

94   Ev w11, National Audit Office, The education of Service children: findings of an National Audit Office consultation, April 2013


95   Ministry of Defence, A Guide for Service Families: UK Education Systems, January 2013 Back

96   Q33 Back

97   Qq 146-149 Back

98   National Audit Office, The education of Service children: findings of an National Audit Office consultation, April 2013 para 2 Back

99   Ministry of Defence, A Guide for Service Families: UK Education Systems, January 2013  Back

100   Ev w11 Back

101   National Audit Office, The education of Service children: findings of an National Audit Office consultation, April 2013 Back

102   Ev 71  Back

103   Army Families Federation website:  Back

104   Ev 72 Back

105   National Audit Office, The education of Service children: findings of an National Audit Office consultation, April 2013 Back

106   Ev w11 Back

107   Ev w23 Back

108   HC Deb, 13 October 2011, col 36WS  Back

109   National Audit Office, The education of Service children: findings of an National Audit Office consultation, April 2013 Back

110   IbidBack

111   Ev w24 Back

112   Ev 73 Back

113   Q 480 Back

114   Q 480 Back

115   Q 345 Back

116   Ev w26 Back

117   Ev w22 Back

118   Q 483 Back

119   Ev 73 Back

120   Q 484 Back

121   Q 232 Back

122   Q349 Back

123   Q349 Back

124   Ev w28 Back

125   Q 365 Back

126   Ev 82, Ev 87 Back

127   Ev 87 Back

128   Ev 82 Back

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Prepared 23 July 2013