Saturday, 27 March 2010

Drill Competitions - a way to teach discipline in the 21st Century?

A common perception of young people today is that they lack discipline. I must say that I do not subscribe to that view. They are perhaps less formal and have shorter attention spans than their forebears, but that is because they are a product of the world that we have created rather than because they are fundamentally ill-disciplined. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that young people actually like discipline and respond well to it. Any doubters witnessing the Yates Drill competition at Berkhamsted School on Tuesday evening would have their faith in young people's regard for discipline restored.

Squads of boys and girls from the Navy, Army and Air Force sections, competing for the coveted trophy, march to a set pattern that includes turns, saluting, changing step and so on. Squads practise for weeks in advance - this is not something that the cadets have to do, it is something they want to do - they muster before school, at breaks and lunch times to train. There is something wonderfully anachronistic about the Yates Drill competition, which has been part of School Calendar for over a century. With the obvious exception of the participation of the girls, who have won the competition for the past eight or so years, it really does have a pre-Great War feel to it.

The volunteer cadets are expected to look the part, which entails cleaning their brass, pressing their uniforms and shining their shoes. Parents comment in bemusement that their sons and daughters (who are no different from their peers around the country in pushing the boundaries on school uniform, jewelry and hair length) insist on haircuts and that supplies of shoe polish and Brasso are in place. It is so tempting to put the Regimental Sergeant Major in charge of school uniform!

I have worked in five independent schools and in each of them the School Combined Cadet Force (CCF) has served an invaluable role in developing important qualities and skills in young people, not only discipline, but also leadership, problem-solving, initiative and, most importantly, confidence.

I am grateful to Mr Peter Riddick for the use of these pictures

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