State schools should copy the private sector and set up army cadet forces to help build character and instil a sense of self-discipline in their pupils, Labour said today.
Schools should also recruit more ex-armed service personnel to act as mentors to their pupils, according to the party’s education spokesman, Stephen Twigg.
Speaking at a conference in Sheffield, Mr Twigg said schools needed to do more to ensure their pupils were “life ready” when they left education – and that developing character and resilience needed to be one of the aims of a new modern curriculum.
The shadow education secretary praised the work of St Matthew Academy in Lewisham, south London, one of the few state schools to have set up a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and to use ex-servicemen and women as mentors.
“I was inspired by talking to a 14-year-old who talked about the fact that the mentor from the armed services had changed her life – giving her a sense of self-discipline, rigour and helped her get back on the right track,” he said.
There are 257 private and state schools with their own CCFs, according to the Ministry of Defence, but the vast majority are understood to be in independent schools.
Mr Twigg’s initiative follows a call last year by Education Secretary Michael Gove for schools to employ more ex-service personnel to give troublesome youngsters more of a sense of discipline.
Mr Twigg said state schools should also ape the independent sector by setting up debating societies and ensuring every pupil had at least two hours of sport a week. Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, would monitor whether schools do so.
“There is a simple reason why some of the best private and state schools, too, focus on developing a young person’s whole potential. It’s because it prepares them for the future,” he added.
Mr Twigg also attacked Mr Gove’s plans to introduce a new English Baccalaureate to replace GCSEs in 2015, saying the move would herald a “decade of economic decline”.
The EBacc, as it has been dubbed, concentrates on just five subjects – English, maths, the sciences, a foreign language and the humanities (history or geography).
However, Mr Twigg said the concentration on just five subjects risked taking the country back to a 19th century education system where no value was placed on skills such as engineering, computing and construction, as well as creative subjects.