Military children: What kind of support do they need?

Written by: Louise Fetigan | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Service Pupil Premium amounts to £310 per child. How can primary schools make a difference to the wellbeing of service children with little to no budget? Louise Fetigan, founder of the charity Little Troopers, advises

There are more than 100,000 children in the UK who have a parent actively serving in the British Armed Forces and you might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of these children attend a school with fewer than 10 other service children. In fact, it is not unusual for schools to have just one service child on roll.

It is often assumed that service children do not need targeted support unless a child is in crisis or a school has a large cohort of military children, but I would disagree.

While service children do of course benefit from broader school wellbeing initiatives (in the same way their peers do), all service children can at times face unique practical and emotional challenges that have the potential to negatively affect their wellbeing and academic performance.

I believe that all schools and school leaders should have a good understanding of these challenges and be equipped with tools to support service pupils as and when needed to ensure they are not disadvantaged by military life.

Last year, the governments of the UK committed to making “getting it right for service children a national education priority” (MoD, 2021a). While we await guidance promised by the Department for Education, there is still plenty that schools can be doing now to have a positive impact.

In England, state schools that have children of service families in years Reception to year 11 can receive the Service Pupil Premium (SPP) funding, which is currently worth £310 per service child who meets the eligibility criteria (MoD, 2021b).

However, it is possible to provide on-going, targeted pastoral support for service pupils and the good news is that you do not need a large SPP budget to make a difference.

Representing military life

A good place to start is by talking about military life more in school, with both service and civilian children. As a charity, we would like to see military life represented more in all primary schools and early years settings – in dressing-up boxes, children’s libraries and discussions about careers.

This is not about promoting violence or war play. It is about fostering a feeling of inclusion and embracing diversity by sharing children’s different experiences. Let’s put aside our adult understanding of military service for a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of a forces child.

They regularly see their parent go to work in uniform. They might live in a house behind the wire of a military base and see tanks, planes or troops carrying weapons every day.

To the child these events aren’t about conflict or violence, they are simply part of their day-to-day reality and so being able to dress-up as mum or dad in school or read about literary characters who have gone through similar life experiences can be hugely positive and powerful for service children. It can also give civilian children a valuable insight into the lives of their military friends.

Change and uncertainty

The second most important thing that schools can do is regularly communicate with their military families. Military life is often uncertain and unpredictable and a “settled” family circumstance can quickly change. Being unexpectedly separated from a parent due to an overseas deployment, a new posting or military exercise is the single biggest challenge that military children face, and it happens a lot more frequently than you might think.

Consider how you can support service children during these more challenging times. For instance, if a parent is deployed to a different time zone, can you make allowances for the child to take calls during school hours? Be aware that if their parent is a submariner or in the special forces, they might have little to no contact for months at a time, which can be very hard.

Our charity offers the Little Troopers Military Child Wellbeing course, which can help service children to work through some of these unique challenges and empowers them with techniques to handle change and uncertainty, now and in the future.

Having a dedicated newsletter for military families can also work very effectively to encourage two-way engagement. It can also ensure that military families feel understood and supported.

School transition

Research shows that the service children most likely to be negatively impacted by military life are those who are most mobile (Sealous & Walker, 2020).

While an increasing number of military families are choosing to settle in one location, there are still thousands in the British Armed Forces community for whom moving house every few years or less is the norm. It is not uncommon for service children to attend eight or more different schools by the time they are 18. Often these moves take place during the academic year, making it even more challenging for everyone involved.

From a practical point of view, moving schools can result in children missing or even having to redo parts of the curriculum. Children in early years might have learnt their phonics sounds or handwriting differently and suddenly find themselves behind. Emotionally, starting a new school and making new friends can also be stressful and difficult.

Offering extra support to service children as they transition in and out of an education setting helps military families feel welcomed and supported. Actively engage with the family and the previous school in advance of the child starting and find out more about the dynamic at home. Has the serving parent been deployed recently? Do they regularly work away from home, and will this change with the house move? Are the family living closer or further away from extended family? And when are they moving into their new home? In rare cases children might still be living in a hotel on their first day of school.

Equally, when a service child leaves your school, be the first to open up a conversation with their new school and provide them with as much information as possible on the child’s Common Transfer File to best support the child’s move and help them to thrive in their new setting.

Forces Life Club

An extremely effective way to support service children is to bring them together regularly, either during lesson time or in a lunch or after-school club. It might be weekly, monthly, once a term or only when their parents are deployed.

Service children do not automatically know each other and introducing them to other children with similar life experiences can be hugely reassuring and help to nurture new, supportive friendships. It can also help children to see that they are part of a wider network of military children across the British Armed Forces community, which can foster feelings of pride and belonging.

Little Troopers has a range of activity ideas to engage children during these sessions, from role-play activities to interactive games, doodling and creative writing – all providing different ways to explore topics such as resilience, change, separation and deployment.

If you only have one service pupil on roll, consider connecting with other local schools, either in-person or virtually.


Supporting service children in education need not be complicated or expensive, but if we are going to stop service children from being disadvantaged, then we have to stop labelling them as such. Instead, we must focus on ways that we can help them harness their unique experiences to become confident, adaptable and resilient. Schools can and should play a big part in making this happen and together we can make sure that every service child has the capability to reach their full potential.

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