Service children

Why service children need support and how to provide it

On Armed Forces Day, Louis Fetigan sets out the challenges military life brings to children and how schools can help them to reset their experiences as assets

On Armed Forces Day, Louis Fetigan sets out the challenges military life brings to children and how schools can help them to reset their experiences as assets

24 Jun 2023, 5:01

Today is Armed Forces Day. That might seem unremarkable to many schools but in fact military life – and the way in which it can sometimes impact on the emotional wellbeing and academic attainment of Armed Forces children – is relevant to all school leaders and teachers.

There are estimated to be approximately 100,000 children who have a parent or parents serving in the British Armed Forces. Most of these children attend a school with fewer than ten other service children and latest figures show that just over half of state schools in England have service children on roll. In other words, most educators will, at some point, encounter a service child in their setting.

The challenges

Military life brings with it unique pressures that can be challenging for children at times. Serving parents can be deployed overseas for months and other military commitments take personnel away from the family home, often at the drop of a hat. In a 2022 survey, 15 per cent of service families said they changed school in the past 12 months for service reasons and we know that multiple moves can cause children to struggle with their sense of identity and belonging. Practically, school moves are not always smooth and children can find themselves struggling to catch up, repeating or even missing out on parts of the curriculum.

As a charity, we also find that children who are the only service child in school struggle the most. They don’t have peers who share similar experiences and their school is unlikely to have specific support in place.

How can schools better support service children?

Schools are a neutral space that can be a sanctuary of support for service children, especially when families may be coping with stress and change at home. Crucially, supporting service children effectively need not be complicated or expensive, So, what simple things can make the biggest difference?

Family liaison

Military life is often uncertain and unpredictable and a ‘settled’ family circumstance can quickly change. Regular communication with military families via a newsletter, email or scheduled phone call, keeps schools up-to-speed and encourages engagement with families.

Forces Club

Regularly bringing service children together as part of a club can be incredibly empowering. If you only have one or two service children, consider pairing up with other schools for in-person or virtual meet-ups. Not only do children find it reassuring to meet others with similar experiences but it also helps them to see they are part of a wider network of military children, which can foster feelings of pride and belonging.

Training and resources

Schools in England are eligible for Service Pupil Premium but this £320 per child doesn’t stretch very far with a small number of children. It can however pay for books in the library that represent military children, technology to help children stay in touch with parents during deployments or specific military-themed resources to help children explore their unique experiences and learn how to navigate challenge and change.

Transition pathway

A clear transition pathway for service children should be considered best practice. Simple things, such as making best use of the Common Transfer File for school leavers can really help children thrive in their new setting. Meanwhile making allowances for new children, such as enabling younger children to continue their reading log or keep their pen licence, or arranging for older students to have a place on their favourite sports team, can also make a huge difference as to how quickly a child settles in.

Of course, some children will be more impacted by service life than others. But for the most part, given the right support, service children need not be disadvantaged by their upbringing. Instead, they should embrace their unique experiences as personal assets that can help them become more confident, adaptable and resilient adults. Schools have a huge role to play in helping to make this happen and this starts with giving service children the recognition they deserve.

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