For the first time since the Falklands War, the UK is having to cope with the return of a sizeable number of wounded veterans from foreign conflicts. The charity Skill Force is using the experience of medically discharged and disabled ex-servicemen and women to help motivate disaffected school pupils, while also creating employment opportunities for former armed forces personnel.
Skill Force, which was set up in 2000 and registered as a charity in 2004, now operates 36 teams of instructors working in 220 schools across the country. The organisation was funded by the Department for Education and Skills and the Ministry of Defence, but that support is coming to an end. The gap has been filled by a £558,000, three-year grant from the Royal British Legion. This will pay the salary costs of 17 medically discharged or disabled instructors from the armed forces.
It also promises to be the start of a deeper partnership.
The instructors will be used to mentor young people who are at risk of leaving school without any qualifications. Instead of two GCSEs, students take accredited programmes such as those run by the Duke of Edinburgh Award or the awarding body Asdan.
According to Julie Simpson, fundraising manager at Skill Force, the programme's success hinges on the people who deliver it. "It's so effective because of the relationship the instructors are able to build up with young people," she says. "They've got a lot of life experience and they've seen a lot of the world, a lot more than the young people they're instructing have."
For the Royal British Legion, the partnership chimes well with a recent rebranding to emphasise its welfare work with ex-servicemen and an increased focus on the needs of younger service leavers. But it also hopes the veterans working in schools will raise awareness of the work the legion does and what it represents. Remembrance is now part of the national curriculum, and the legion offers schools tours of European battlefields.
"We find that schools are interested in individuals who have practical experience of serving in the armed forces," says Sue Freeth, director of welfare at the legion. "We aren't always able to provide that, so this sort of enterprise means that part of our work might get a higher profile."