FOR youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds, disillusioned with life and leaving school not knowing what to do next, the military might seem like a glittering option.

It is sold to them as camaraderie, travel, adventure, and a starting salary of over £18,000 a year for anyone leaving school at the age of 16, without any GCSEs, which could tempt the most timid of us to stride out on to the battlefield.

Despite this, Army recruiters are missing their targets, and last year were down 30 per cent on the number of soldiers they wanted to bring in.

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Recruitment, therefore, is becoming more aggressive – and it could be coming to a school near you. The Army, despite its denials, rather shamelessly targets Northern cities and poorer areas.

A teacher I know who taught in an innercity state boys school, in a desperately impoverished area, was shocked at the number of times recruiters came – she felt the boys she nurtured were being sold an ideal, when in fact they were being recruited as – in her words – “cannon fodder”.

The Government is now planning to have British Army lessons in schools, as part of citizenship lessons, alongside visits from military personnel, to try to plug the recruitment crisis. The report into the plan was called “Filling the Ranks”.

It is authored by former defence minister, Conservative MP Mark Francois, who says: “There is a risk you could encounter resistance from some left-wing teachers to the idea.”

This week, a conference in York organised by Medact, an organisation which looks at the impact of war on health and society, looked at evidence the British Military actively targets the “C2DE” group – in other words, the three lower social and economic groups in society.

As well as that, Britain is the only country in Europe – and in fact the only permanent member of the UN Security Council – to recruit 16-year-olds. And 22 per cent of our new soldiers were still children – the highest percentage among developed nations.

These children, once they reach 18, are more likely to end up in frontline combat roles than those recruited as adults.

More shockingly, these recruits are twice as likely to be killed or injured, when compared to those recruited over 18.

I try to remember when I was 16, if I can cast my memory that far back. I was a child, after all. If someone had said, follow me for adventure and glory and excitement, I would have followed them to the ends of the earth. The reality, of course, is very different.

Officers are recruited from top universities, infantry from the most disadvantaged schools. It’s the class divide at its very worst. It’s not increasing social mobility, and not always providing a long and rewarding career. Last year, veterans made up five per cent of the prison population, promoting concerns about the mental health of former soldiers. Our court system is full of ex-soldiers, recruited as children, spat out into civvy life.

The UN has criticised the UK for recruiting 16 year olds, yet the Government seems more intent than ever at boosting our ranks at the highest cost– at the cost of our children.