As parents of four Forces children, who mostly accompanied us on all our postings, we grew used to feeling a nuisance within the education system.
We routinely arrived and moved on outside regular term-times, adding to already overstretched class-sizes. If moves took place over Christmas, and they often did, we could end up with three parent-teacher meetings per-child, per-year. But it saddened me that PTA-discussions around Forces children always seemed to be from a deficit point of view. Forces children certainly have particular issues to manage, but they also bring plenty of positives, and it’s important these are recognised.
As parents and educators, we need to teach our children to manage change. Now more than ever. The experiences that Forces children bring into the classroom can be really instructive; widening the understanding of those with more geographically-stable lives.
Understanding the needs of others develops empathy. The challenges of Forces families can so easily become a class-resource, from a wall-based geography lesson (‘Whose Parent is Where?’) to a living case-study of how to prepare for a move; in the process promoting planning skills and mental flexibility. Sharing interesting experiences helps everyone learn.
Widening understanding of the Forces lifestyle also feels fair. If there are an estimated 130,000 Forces pupils in UK schools, they surely warrant consideration within basic teacher training; in the same way future teachers are taught to recognise special learning/social needs or children potentially at risk.
I am in the fortunate position of working within a university, and persuaded Kingston’s School of Education to lay on a special ‘Understanding Forces Families’ session for PGCE students. Our programme included contributions from a range of relevant organisations and individuals including RCET.: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity. Crucially, I got it timetabled, so it’s now part of the curriculum – with a third delivery scheduled for January 2021.
‘I found this very useful. I had never really thought about Forces families or how it would affect their education. It has now made me keen to research more on this topic and to advocate as much support as possible in the schools I go to.’ Participant, 19th January 2020
In the process we are also helping the next generation of teachers spot job opportunities. Current changes to military housing structures may mean more teachers end up with Forces pupils in their classes. CV-evidence of prior understanding may improve employability.
In short, I think Forces families should feature on every course in Education. If you agree, and want to share our programme, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Alison Baverstock is the founder and director of Reading Force, a shared-reading project that encourages Forces families to stay in touch through reading the same book. Anyone with a Forces connection can register, and receive free resources at www.readingforce.org.uk