In recognition of April being the Month of the Military Child, we spoke to Kelly Wales, Education and Skills Liaison for our EM3 Veterans and Families programme. The programme supports veterans, their partners and their children, and encourages skills, training and employment across a range of industries, including Gaming, Space and Satellite, and Medical Science. Kelly’s role specifically focuses on supporting young people from military families and encourages changes within education settings to ensure that this demographic is not disadvantaged.
The challenges young people in military families face
There are a number of reasons why young people in military families face challenges, many of which stem from their continual movement to new locations, a factor intrinsic to military life. Moving location every couple of years, and therefore moving school or college, can lead to gaps in education. Moreover, many Service children and young people move schools in the middle of the academic year, which can cause much disruption to their education and result in a lack of continuity in what they are taught. 
Some young people also move between curriculums and different education systems, particularly if they are partly educated overseas and then return to the UK. Each move presents challenges, such as adjusting and adapting to a new environment, catching up on education, and integrating within a new school. On a purely practical level, persistently moving locations and schools has a logistical impact that can be disorientating for young people.
It can also have an emotional impact. The lack of consistency can cause Service children and young people to experience isolation, loneliness and social anxiety. It can make it difficult for individuals to form a stable network of friends. It can also impact upon relationships with teachers, as these students have to continually build new relationships, and it can take time to establish trust and rapport. This may detrimentally affect their focus in the classroom and performance at school. Moving schools regularly can also cause some young people to withdraw and lack the motivation to integrate and engage with their schoolwork because they know they will soon be moving on.
Any additional needs of a young person cause a further layer of complexity and challenges. For example, young people with special needs or disabilities will have to move healthcare providers, may be moved to longer waiting lists and have to undertake more medical assessments – all of which can cause stress to individuals and their families.
There are also the emotional factors of having a parent on deployment, which can affect a young person’s focus, motivation and engagement in their education.
Understandably, these challenges and lack of consistency can result in some young people struggling in education. It can mean that they are at higher risk of not following an education path, of dropping out altogether, or experiencing difficulties in finding employment post-education.
In fact, the Service Children’s Progression Alliance (SCiP) – a partnership of organisations focused on improving outcomes for children from Armed Forces families  – have researched Service children’s progression and found that ‘four out of ten Service children who have the ability to progress into higher education are unlikely to do so’ (McCullouch and Hall, 2016). 
Moreover, the SCiP Alliance have published research establishing the low participation rate for Service children in further and higher education, which has drawn attention to the need for the systematic monitoring of progress. 
The research and the reasons all reveal that Service children and young people require additional support in education settings, due to the unique challenges their home life presents. Often in schools and colleges, the general pastoral support or career advice does not recognise or cater for this demographic’s specific needs.
Pathway support for young people in military families
This is where the EM3 Veterans and Families programme, and Kelly’s role as Education and Skills Liaison, provide support. The EM3 programme is based in the M3 region of Hampshire and Surrey, and builds relationships with schools and youth groups in the region that are in contact with Service children and young people. By working with partner organisations X-Forces Enterprise, University of Winchester, TechVets and Building Heroes, the programme provides aspirational career pathways for people aged 16 to 24, and aims to help and motivate young people to remain engaged with education.
EM3 provides one-to-one support to raise aspirations and make clear that there are a multitude of pathways post-school, including university, further education, apprenticeships and first job schemes. The programme widens young people’s career choices, with emphasis on emerging technologies, in industries such as gaming, space and medicine. EM3 looks at an individual’s personal interests and advises how these could be integrated into a career and provides practical support to help achieve this.
Often military spouses and young people are referred to as ‘dependants’, which can be perceived as derogatory, suggesting that spouses and young people are reliant upon the family member who is serving in the military. This can lead to a public perception that such ‘dependants’ are disempowered and lack autonomy. EM3 works to alter this perception, providing young people, spouses and partners with recognition and the autonomy to shape their own futures and careers.
As such, the programme provides mentoring for young people and listens to their experiences. Often giving a young person a voice and an opportunity to be heard can be transformative. Knowing that someone understands their experiences can be empowering.
One military spouse and young person client said, “Thanks so much for all the work you’ve put into supporting [my son] through year 12 and in particular the efforts you’ve made to help him understand how to plan and write a Personal Statement. Due to an overseas move he has changed schools more often than we would have hoped during his secondary education and the EM3 programme has provided a source of invaluable support from someone outside the family that he trusts and listens to.”
Many of our staff at the Forces Employment Charity including the EM3 and Families team have links to the military – being military spouses, were themselves military children, have military children, or served in the Armed Forces. Their lived experience of, and connections with, the Armed Forces provide advisers with further empathy and understanding of the challenges clients face.
The programme also aims to build young people’s confidence to pursue their own goals and choose their own career and path.
EM3 also organises and hosts workshops, as part of Creative Armed Forces days, which students are invited to attend. These workshops provide students with practical knowledge, such as CV writing skills, which they can use to help them embark on their chosen career.
Helping schools to support Service children and young people
Often the challenges faced by young people in military families are overlooked in schools and colleges. The EM3 team has worked with schools to educate them about Service children’s specific needs and to implement additional support for this group. Since its inception in January 2022, the EM3 programme has actively engaged with and supported fifteen schools and two youth groups across Hampshire and Surrey.
The programme also provides signposting to other organisations and charities that can offer other kinds of support for military families. Whilst EM3 provides career and pathway support, other organisations are specialists in areas such as mental health and family support which, when combined, can make an even greater difference to a young person’s life, and ensures they are holistically supported.
The EM3 team worked with a special school to provide further opportunities for young people from military families who have other specific needs. EM3 organised a project with a group of military children and guest speakers, and the children created and edited a promotional film about their school. The project sought to broaden the Service children’s horizons, and made them aware of the numerous pathways into a multitude of careers available to them, regardless of grades and academic achievement. Such projects have been praised by senior teaching staff, who have the desire but not always the capacity to support young people from military families in the way they require.
One college careers team that Kelly worked with did not identify students from military families. This meant they had no awareness of the student’s background or the challenges they might have faced which could impact upon their performance at school – and by extension their careers.
Firstly Kelly educated the team on why there was a need to identify these students, something many who have no military connection can overlook. The SCiP Alliance’s research and their framework for supporting Service children further supported her conversations with the careers team.
Following this, Kelly supported the team in finding a solution to better support Service children. The team decided to ask all students if they were from a military family in their admissions questionnaire. This ensured that the information was gathered as soon as the students started at the college. This allowed for support to be offered from the first day, as the young person transitioned into the college, which often can be the most challenging period of change.
The programme aims to leave a lasting legacy within schools and educational settings. It raises awareness, explains why Service children require support, and sets up processes in schools to address this. This sets the groundwork for institutions to build upon and incorporate within their everyday operation. Such systemic shifts will allow Service children and young people to be better supported, with the goal that more of them will go on to achieve their career aspirations.
EM3 Veterans and Families programme
If you are a military partner, spouse or young person, register here to receive free support from our EM3 specialist advisers.
The EM3 Veterans and Families programme is part funded by the European Social Fund.
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