Saturday, 30 October 2010

Covenants, boarders & the military

Tory plan to axe school fees 'breaks the military covenant' reads the Telegraph headline.

For many years the children of British servicemen have been able to go to private boarding schools through something called the boarding school allowance. This is a fund designed to pay part of the cost of private school fees, which service personnel on fairly meagre salaries would otherwise be unable to afford. The fund provides around £180 million a year for 7,400 military children. £5,621 is allowed per term, with the remainder - usually around £4000 after including uniforms, books & sundry school trips - being paid from regular servicemen's pay. 58% of recipients are officers, 42% soldiers.

It is paid because military units - and hence the families which staff, support and maintain them - are posted to new jobs every two years throughout their military service. More frequently if wars and disputes like Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq become the norm.

Why is it considered part of the military covenant? Because moving servicemen's children every two years - or even less - from school to school as families rotate around military bases across the world is completely incompatible with good education. Helping to provide a place at a UK based boarding school allows those children the stability and long term educational support that is necessary.

More than that, many military families provide their professionalism and commitment to public service - and let us not forget what a service they provide in places like Helmand, Goose Green or the streets of Belfast - precisely because their children's education is additionally provided. It could hardly be for the pay. That is why the government's move to stop the boarding school allowance for service families is considered a breach of the military covenant. 

As the son of a young army Captain posted to Bielefeld in 1965, who was able to attend just two schools from the age of seven to eighteen, I am living proof the system works.