Pupils from a struggling inner city London school have been thrown a lifeline in the form of the creation of a new MOD-sponsored cadet unit. Report by Leigh Hamilton.
As part of an overhaul of Islington Green School in North London, it was decided that a cadet unit might help the youngsters form plans for the future and therefore achieve their full potential.
Cadet units can provide challenging and enjoyable activities for young people, offer them the opportunity to learn new skills, engage youngsters in adventurous activities in disciplined and structured organisations, and help them gain vocational BTEC qualifications.
The transformation of what is now the City of London Academy Islington is being led by City of London Councillor Richard Regan. It was he who believed that a cadet unit was exactly the right way forward for the pupils of the school:
Getting kids together and giving them a structured existence to me is absolutely fundamental,” he said. “It’s my ambition to create a CCF [Combined Cadet Force] or cadet unit to bring these diverse kids together to get them to think ‘aspirationally’ and give them hope for the future.
Elsewhere in London, the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) was looking around for somewhere to spend their available funding on creating a cadet unit and so the perfect pairing was created.
The HAC has two functions. The HAC regiment is an Army Reserves unit in the military chain of command. The other part of the HAC is a civilian body which has charitable status and this is the section that is sponsoring the cadet unit.
Major General (Retired) Simon Lalor, formerly Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Reserves and Cadets), is a trustee of the HAC’s charitable body. He said:
Because we’re a third party sponsor, we won’t actually be involved in the running of the cadet unit. The regiment can however add value by offering equipment, or cadets could go and train with the HAC. What is so good about this is that this is a local regiment with a local CCF unit in an academy.
Partnering with the HAC promises to provide the aspiration and inclusion that Councillor Regan is searching for.
The HAC is the oldest regiment. They provide the Pikemen [infantry who carry spears] who escort the Lord Mayor’s carriage in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show. It’s also an active unit. They’ve got guys out in Afghanistan. It’s a very thriving organisation and they decided they wanted to do something in the community.
When I met Major General Simon Lalor he agreed that this is a heaven-sent opportunity, saying ‘we would like to start a cadet unit, you would like to start a cadet unit. You haven’t got any funding, we will fund it for you for up to 120 cadets’.
Major General Lalor concurred:
We had an extraordinary situation where we had the HAC as a potential sponsor with money available, and the City of London Academy with a cadet force aspiration without any money. Perfect timing.
From the HAC’s perspective it couldn’t be better. The HAC is the City of London’s regiment and the fact that the City of London has sponsored an academy in our area just ticks every box.
This new cadet unit has already proved to be a worthy concept as the MOD and the Department for Education announced in June that they would work together to create 100 new cadet units in state-funded secondary schools by 2015.
But for Islington, negotiations and preparations have been underway for the past year to create the new cadet unit, leading up to D-Day last month:
September 17 was our first parade night which is when it all started,” explained Councillor Regan. “It was literally the first night where we issued uniforms and that kind of thing.
But there’s lots more work to do and Councillor Regan has high expectations:
I want to get 120 pupils signed up by 2015, but we’re going for 40 to start with and I think we’ll get that. I hope by next year we’ll be able to double that.
I think that a cadet unit is the perfect way to give the kids pride, particularly those kids who want and need more discipline.
Major General Lalor explained that taking part in a cadet unit can have a hugely positive effect on a young person’s life:
I’ve been to a lot of cadet units and seen a lot of individual evidence that the cadet experience does give those who are less advantaged a sense of purpose and structure. It’s that Armed Forces’ positiveness and that ‘can do’ culture that the Armed Forces do so well.
The youngsters can now look forward to the cadet unit being a central part of the academy’s life and it will take a good four or five years for it to reach its optimum stage and I think it will create a lot of added value to the education.
You can almost guarantee that the Islington Academy will have a real sense of purpose and some of them really will thrive and will become highly motivated by the cadet experience. It’s rare that a cadet unit doesn’t deliver that.
This article is taken from the October 2012 issue of Defence Focus - the magazine for everyone in Defence.