As we marked Armistice Day this month, the sterling efforts of our armed forces were once again brought into sharp focus.
There is much for school leaders to admire from service personnel: their togetherness, their discipline, their sense of personal responsibility. These are all qualities which we are keen to engender in our students, but are we doing enough to help children develop them?
At Benenden, we have just become only the third girls’ boarding school in the country to launch a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) contin-gent. I was also responsible for re-establishing the second one – at my former school, Godol-phin in Wiltshire – and my husband, an Army chaplain, launched the first at Headington School, Oxford.
I am passionate about the wonderful example the armed forces can set for young people – and particularly for girls.
As headmistress of one of the leading girls’ schools in the country, I am frequently asked about whether girls are sufficiently prepared for the so-called ‘lad culture’ they may encounter at university, or the sexism they may face in the workplace. I always respond that the answer lies in education: we teach girls to be resilient and confident, to stay committed to their beliefs, to be positive, to stand their ground where necessary, to take risks and to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks.
I believe that experiences such as those offered through the CCF provide pupils with every opportunity to develop these skills. The CCF is a nationwide movement, run in partnership with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and schools, which gives young people aged 13 to 18 the chance to develop personal responsibility, leadership and self-discipline through a military approach.
This is not about trying to turn girls into soldiers, nor is it aimedÂ at encouraging them into the armed forces. That is not what CCF is about: rather, this is about providing young women with core life skills and confidence that will serve them well throughout their careers, and throughout their lives.
Discipline, teamwork, commitment and leadership: these are qualities that all headteachers would want their students to develop. From my experience, CCF is a wonderful way of achieving this goal while at the same time having a great deal of fun.
I would strongly encourage other girls’ schools to offer CCF to their students. Such units are almost part of the furniture at boys’ schools, but are a rarity at girls’ schools.
The first public parade for our CCF – which is run in conjunction with the John Wallis Acad-emy in Ashford – was at the Remembrance Sunday service in Benenden village. They were proudly standing alongside members of the armed forces, and as they did so, they learnt so much.