The cadet forces and MOD youth work

How to join or become an adult volunteer with the Sea Cadets, the Army Cadet Force, the Air Cadets, or starting a Combined Cadet Force in schools.

The Ministry of Defence sponsors and supports 4 cadet forces (voluntary youth organisations). They offer challenging and enjoyable activities for young people, and prepare them to play an active part in the community while developing valuable life skills.

The cadet forces comprise of the:

  • Sea Cadets
  • Army Cadet Force
  • Air Training Corps
  • Combined Cadet Force

They aim to provide challenging and enjoyable activities for young people living in the UK and certain locations abroad and to better prepare them for their role in the community. Not only do cadets have the opportunity to learn new skills and engage in adventurous activities in disciplined and well-structured organisations, they may also gain BTEC qualifications based on their achievements. These qualifications equate to 4 GCSEs and may help them in their future education and career.

Adults who volunteer to help with the cadets also have the opportunity to receive useful training and gain recognised qualifications.

Cadets have the chance to learn new skills and engage in adventurous activities in disciplined and well-structured organisations based on the traditions, values and standards of the armed forces. Cadets can also work towards a range of nationally-recognised qualifications which will help with their future education and careers.

Sea Cadets


Sea Cadets (including Royal Marines cadets) aims to give young people the best possible head start in life through fun and adventurous nautical activity. From learning new skills and working in teams, Sea Cadets offers an environment where young people find confidence and inspiration.

Sea Cadets follows the customs and traditions of the Royal Navy, its biggest supporter. Across the country, nearly 14,000 young people in 400 units in towns, cities and ports challenge themselves and develop new skills, like sailing, boating and rock climbing. They are supported by nearly 6,000 volunteers whose dedication makes Sea Cadets possible.

The Army Cadet Force


For action and adventure, fun and friendship, the Army Cadet Force (ACF) is hard to beat. With around 41,000 cadets (aged 12 to18) and 9,500 adult volunteers in 1,700 locations in every corner of the UK, the ACF is one of the country’s largest voluntary youth organisations. It is also one of the oldest, and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010.

We welcome boys and girls from the age of 12 (and in at least year 8 at school), of all abilities and backgrounds and, through a broad range of exciting, challenging, educational and adventurous activities, help them develop physically, mentally and socially. Some of our activities have a military theme, others have more of a community focus. Combining military and community activities in this way, enables us to offer our young people a unique blend of personal development opportunities, all designed to promote fun and friendship while also helping them prepare for success in their chosen path in life, whatever that might turn out to be.

The Air Training Corps


If you’re a fan of aviation, action and adventure, love sports and getting to know people, then you’re in the right place. Every year, over 44,000 air cadets and volunteer staff take part in exciting events in over 900 squadrons across the UK.

Our aims are to:

  • promote and encourage a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force among young people
  • provide training which will be useful in the services and civilian life
  • encourage the spirit of adventure and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship …..and there’s one more important thing…it’s a lot of fun!

The Combined Cadet Force


The Combined Cadet Force (CCF) is a unique educational partnership that operates in schools across the UK. Through enjoyable military themed and adventurous activities, cadets have the opportunity to take responsibility, develop skills such as leadership, self-reliance, resourcefulness, endurance and perseverance. CCF contingents contain one or more sections from the British Army, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines or the Royal Air Force, and promote the aims and values of the Services they represent.

The CCF has one of the longest histories of all the cadet forces sponsored by the MOD, dating back to the 1850s when a number of schools formed units which were attached to Rifle Volunteer Battalions for Home Defence.

Since the 1950s, however, the CCF has been recognised as a voluntary youth organisation, the aim of which is to provide an opportunity for young people to exercise responsibility and leadership in a disciplined environment.

Today the CCF contingents form a vibrant, inclusive youth organisation for pupils aged between 13 and 18, offering significant developmental opportunities in a unique educational partnership with the schools in which they are based. Through the use of military-orientated and adventurous training, cadets also have the opportunity to develop their sense of responsibility and the qualities of self-reliance, resourcefulness, endurance, perseverance and a sense of service to the community. The acquisition of these personal attributes at a formative stage will remain of value throughout the cadets’ lives and will be relevant in whatever career they pursue.

There are around 275 CCF contingents based in both state and independent schools and colleges throughout the UK. The CCF contingent may comprise up to 3 service sections: Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. Some RN sections also include Royal Marines detachments.

The CCF is not part of the UK armed forces. While adult volunteers and cadets do wear uniform, they do not incur any liability for service or compulsory training in the armed forces as a result of being a CCF member.

Each school contingent is run by a team of enthusiastic adult volunteers drawn, in the main, from teachers within the school, although outside volunteers are often invited to help. Schools may also employ a school staff instructor, either full or part time, who is usually a retired senior non-commissioned officer. Adult volunteers have the opportunity to gain nationally-recognised qualifications in leadership, management and outdoor pursuits.

Training opportunities for cadets occur during weekly parades in school, whole day and weekend training periods (field days), at annual military camps, on courses run by the armed forces specifically for cadets and through adventurous training expeditions arranged on an ad hoc basis. Cadets follow the syllabus appropriate to the section they join but all include drill, skill at arms and use of map and compass. Adventurous training opportunities include mountain walking, canoeing, gliding and offshore sailing. Cadets also have the opportunity to gain BTEC qualifications in public services and music.

The success of any CCF contingent is due to the educational partnership that exists between the MOD and the school. A school cannot run a successful CCF without the full support of the Head. It is the Head who must nominate the Contingent Commander and identify the members of staff who are willing to become adult volunteers. However, adult volunteers may also come from outside the school. The CCF works best when it is fully integrated into the school curriculum. Time for CCF activities must be scheduled into the school programme.

In return for the school’s commitment, the MOD gives significant support to the CCF by providing uniform, weapons and ammunition, training advice and assistance, loans of stores and equipment, access to military transport and remuneration to School Staff Instructors (SSIs) and officers.

To summarise this educational partnership, the MOD provides:

  • uniforms
  • weapons and ammunition
  • training for adult volunteers
  • training assistance
  • access to military facilities
  • access to military transport
  • loans of stores and equipment
  • remuneration for adult volunteers

The school provides:

  • the young people
  • time within the curriculum
  • accommodation and storage
  • the adult volunteers
  • enduring commitment and enthusiasm

Cadet expansion initiative

On Armed Forces Day in June 2012, the Prime Minister announced the government’s intention to set up 100 new cadet units in English state schools by September 2015. This cadet expansion programme (CEP) target was reached 6 months early in March 2015 and following this achievement, the government committed an extra £50 million from LIBOR fines to further increase the number of cadet units in schools across the UK, bringing the total number to 500 by 2020.

This doubles the number since CEP began and requires the establishment of approximately 150 new cadet units in state funded schools, with priority given to those in less affluent areas, in areas where there is currently limited access to the cadet experience and in areas where MOD wants to generate awareness of the armed forces.

If you are part of a school, or would like further information on this joint MOD and Department for Education (DfE) initiative, you can find out more about the cadet expansion programme.

UK schools that have been approved since 2015 can be found here.

Adult volunteers with the cadet forces

The cadet forces could not exist without the support of over 28,000 adults who volunteer to help train cadets, run meetings, activities and events. These dedicated people give cadets the chance to get involved in activities ranging from canoeing to rock climbing, map reading to flying, and first aid to The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. For those less keen on the more physical activities, there are also opportunities to use practical skills and help with administration, fundraising or local management groups.

Like cadets, adult volunteers can also gain nationally-recognised qualifications up to the equivalent of a Master’s degree.

MOD: working with young people

There is a need for our young people to be offered tangible and realistic opportunities for enabling them to grow and get the best possible start in life.

As MOD is one of the largest public sector organisations it is able to play a leading role in providing opportunities for young people. Indeed, the range of activities provided for and by the cadets (which is MOD’s main youth related activity) is wider than any other United Kingdom youth organisation.

One of the reasons the cadets are so popular is because of the unparalleled opportunities they provide in terms of team-building, leadership; citizenship and, certainly more recently, recognised education and professional qualifications. Similarly, other MOD supported activities for young people (such as work with The Prince’s Trust) are all aimed specifically at helping build the lives and confidence of young people.

MOD is involved with helping young people as it recognises the part it can play in this important social agenda.

MOD initiatives

The MOD’s unique ‘Education Outreach’ programme is an initiative that instils life-long skills in students studying in a number of Further Education (FE) Colleges across the UK. Over 2,000 students every year, many from ethnic minority backgrounds, improve their chances of finding employment through training, mentoring and receiving an insight into the workings of a large employer. One of the core strands is mentoring and every year over 40 London-based MOD staff, military and civilian, mentor over 80 students.

Other initiatives

The MOD extends its arm to providing support and a military themed ethos to other youth organisations and projects

These include the Army Cadet Force Outreach project, an early-intervention programme specifically designed for crime-vulnerable 12 to 14 year olds and run in conjunction with local schools, police forces and community groups. It provides adventurous training and challenging activities using Army loaned facilities and equipment. It majors on confidence-building and raising self-esteem.

The MOD also lends its support to the Prince’s Trust charity. Through practical support, the trust helps 14 to 30 year olds realise their potential and transform their lives. MOD supports 120 Prince’s Trust personal development programmes for young people across the UK with MOD staff, including serving members of the armed forces, acting as leaders/mentors.

The Cadet Forces have been involved in Youth United (formerly Project YOU) since February 2009. Youth United is a coalition of youth organisations, mainly uniformed, with the aim to reach out further in the UK to encourage more young people and adult volunteers to take advantage of the opportunities available.

Contact details

The Youth and Cadets team, based at the MOD, is a component of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Division. It offers advice to government on youth policy and the cadet forces.

RF&C Div: Youth & Cadets
Floor 6 Zone D
Ministry of Defence
Main Building

Cadet statistics

A few interesting facts you might not know about the cadet forces.

At 1 April 2014, there were around 131,000 cadets, broken down as:

  • 42,950 Combined Cadet Force
  • 13,630 Sea Cadet Corps
  • 41,040 Army Cadet Force
  • 33,590 Air Training Corps

Enabling so many cadets to take part are more than 28,000 adult volunteers:

  • 2,810 Combined Cadet Force
  • 5,920 Sea Cadet Corps
  • 9,440 Army Cadet Force
  • 10,430 Air Training Corps

Cadets typically range in age from 12 to 18 years old.

Adult Volunteers typically range from 18 to 65 years old.

Around 275 schools have Combined Cadet Forces, of which about one-third are in state schools

A Combined Cadet Force (CCF) can contain one or more sections from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army or Royal Air Force.

People from all walks of life serve in the cadet forces, either through their school in the Combined Cadet Forces, or by joining individual Service Cadet organisations.

If you take a cross section of the most prominent people in Britain today, you’d be surprised how many of them were once cadets, such as the Dean of Westminster, the novelist Sebastian Faulks, Chris Martin from Coldplay, David Walliams, Jeremy Irons, Tom Lucy, Olympic Silver Medallist in rowing in the 2008 Games, Jamie Hickman, the Olympic and Commonwealth Gold Medal swimmer, and Len Deighton, author of ‘The Ipcress File’.

History of the cadet forces

The history of the cadet forces dates back to the 1850s with the formation of several forerunners of the existing organisations.

The Cadet Corps, the forerunners of the Combined Cadet Corps, were formed firstly in certain schools as a means of training young people to support the masses of volunteers who were required to boost the army following heavy losses in the Crimea War and the possibility of further war. These Cadet Corps were recognised by the War Office and permitted to wear the uniforms of their parent volunteer battalions, later to become the Territorial Army. As the threat of war receded, some Cadet Corps developed into Rifle Clubs, and cadet battalions not associated with schools became Social Welfare Organisations, the forerunners of the current Army Cadet Force.

Meantime, also during the 1850s, a number of orphanages were established to look after children orphaned as a result of the Crimean War. These were run with the help of sailors returning from the Crimea. An organisation was then formed called the ‘Naval Lads’ Brigades’ and over the following 50 years or so 34 Brigades of Boys were established. They were granted recognition by the Admiralty in 1919 and the title ‘Navy League Sea Cadet Corps’ adopted.

Following World War 1 there was a reluctance on the part of the public to support any military organisation because of the huge losses incurred in the war and the Cadet Forces for a while received no support from government and had to be entirely self-supporting.

Then, in 1938, a retired officer from the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, Air Commodore Chamier, had the foresight to see the need for people trained in airmanship and started the Air Defence Cadet Corps. This comprised units set up in some schools to provide part-time training for young men intending to join the Royal Air Force. They were hugely successful and their value noted by the government at the time. Developing from the Air Defence Cadet Corps, the Air Training Corps was formed in 1941 by Royal Warrant.

By 1942, the other cadet forces started to thrive once again and were heavily supported by the government.

Today, the cadet forces are very different to those early groups of young people. The focus now is on developing tomorrow’s citizens by providing challenging and interesting activities, although the values and ethos of the armed forces are used as a means to achieve this aim. Up to 40% of a cadet’s time is spent on adventurous training activities.

Cadets not only have the opportunity for self-development but they also get involved with volunteer and charitable work in the community. The activities that cadets do can lead to the gaining of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or a vocational qualification, a BTEC in Public Services. Adult volunteers also have the opportunity to gain recognized qualifications.

Many cadets do go on to join the armed forces, and we are delighted to welcome them, but there is absolutely no pressure for cadets to follow military careers. The Ministry of Defence accepts that the cadet force organisations add value to the youth of today and for this reason continue to support them wholeheartedly.

Published 12 December 2012
Last updated 17 October 2016 + show all updates
  1. Updated Cadet Expansion Programme information.

  2. Updated content to remove inaccurate and out of date information.

  3. First published.