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UK military and schoolchildren – How schools can support little troopers

You’ve been to three schools in three years and sometimes feel misunderstood, but help is here, says Louise Fetigan...

  • UK military and schoolchildren – How schools can support little troopers

You’re only seven years old and today you’re starting a new school – your third one in three years.

Your mum serves in the British Army and you and your family regularly move around the country for her career.

You found out you were moving just five weeks ago and your parents struggled to find you a school place in time.

Far from home

Your first day is full of nerves. You only moved into your new house at the weekend and it’s hundreds of miles away from the last place you called home.

You’ve started school midway through the term and your new teacher is covering the curriculum in a different order. Everyone else seems up to speed with microhabitats and food chains but you wring your hands and wish the ground would swallow you whole. 

At this new school you’ll be the only child with a parent serving in the British Armed Forces. More than 50% of schools with service children have less than ten on roll.

Your parents thought it was a good choice because the school population is less mobile so you won’t have to say goodbye to military friends all the time, but sometimes this is harder.

There will be no other children that can relate to your experiences as a military child. No one will understand what it’s like when your mum gets called away on a four-week exercise with 24 hours’ notice, or when she’s deployed overseas for six months and you rarely get to speak to her.

Your school will have a very small Service Pupil Premium budget to offer you pastoral support and it won’t stretch far – that’s if they even offer you any dedicated support at all.

At home you’re proud to be part of the British Armed Forces community but at school it can feel like your family are living a secret life.

When your mum is home you watch her go to work every day in her uniform, but while the dressing-up box at school is full of other uniforms from grown-up jobs – police, firefighters, nurses, mechanics, builders – there aren’t any military clothes.

You probably won’t find any stories about military family life in the school library either, even though some of your favourite books at home are ones about other service children like you.

You’re not alone

Some days you feel alone and misunderstood and wish you could just live a ‘normal’ life. I know how you feel because my own daughter experienced the same thing 10 years ago.

In 2011, her dad was serving in Afghanistan and she attended a school where she was the only service child. None of her friends understood what it was like to have a parent in the forces.

One of them innocently asked her if she would get a new daddy when her daddy died. She really, really struggled. Her behaviour regressed. She started waking up in the night and anxiously following me around the house.

I didn’t know where to turn for help and the school couldn’t offer me any support, so I started a charity called Little Troopers to support all children with a parent serving in the British Armed Forces.

One of our many projects is to provide schools with evidence-based resources for teachers to support military children through some of the unique challenges and experiences they face and help them realise that there are 100,000 other children in the UK just like them. 

Next month your mum is going away again. Your heart aches already. Because it’s ‘only’ for eight weeks, everyone expects you to be resilient. But resilience isn’t about becoming hardened over time. It’s about feeling nurtured and supported by the adults in your life, including your teachers.

When your school tells you about a free Little Troopers virtual workshop you’re excited to log on with hundreds of other military children from your local area and feel part of a community of others who feel just like you.

I wish that I could reach every Little Trooper like you and make sure that you are getting the support you need when you need it. I want you to know that being a military child is not a disadvantage and that I’ll continue to work hard to ensure that children like you get the helping hand they need to flourish.

From Louise

Find out more about Little Troopers at littletroopers.net and follow on Twitter at @LittleTroopers_.

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