The education of children from military service families: agency and identity

There are about 70,000 children from military service families who attend schools in every corner of the British Isles: their needs are of national relevance and importance. It is imperative that their education experiences and progression are addressed through an inclusive approach to education; one that extends efforts beyond recognised categories of special or additional needs so that attention is given to their distinct needs.  To that end, this paper reflects on the initial and developing outcomes of research to investigate the progression to higher education of service children (McCullouch and Hall, 2016). It addresses questions on the identity characteristics of these children and the conceptualisation of their educational experience.  We look beyond the bare facts of academic attainment and participation in higher education into the impact of identity and agency on educational progression and accordingly present the consequences for educators in engaging with the complex and distinctive realities and identities of service children, challenging stereotypes about both service children and disadvantage. Finally we emphasise the role of education, especially inclusive education, in enriching the identities and advancing agency of children from military families.

Existing research, quantitative data sets and literature have been reviewed and empirical data (through interviews and questionnaires) collected from school-age and undergraduates service children. Analysis was informed by the literature, secondary and primary data and viewed through the lenses of Bandura and Bourdieu concerning agency, identity and capital.

Service children seldom fit the normal deprivation factors; they are not generally regarded as educationally disadvantaged or underachieving. However, we found that children from military service families are under-represented in the higher education population (approx. 24% compared to 43%). For children from military families face intractable constraints, including frequent mobility and parent(s) on combat deployment, that result in a high risk of emotional, behavioural and attainment problems. Indeed, although these children are often adept at masking the impact of their loss of agency, eventually the effort of coping takes its toll, and university becomes less attainable or desirable. As Bandura et al. (2001) note, agency governs ambitions, purpose and supports resilience to daunting obstacles, creating momentum. As children from military families mature so raises their awareness related strongly to family habitus (Bourdieu, 1977), ingraining their cultural capital. Thus, we conclude that a lack of progression to HE by service children emerges as loss of agency.