Scotland's last state school army cadets to hang up their rifles

THE last armed forces cadet group at a Scottish state school is set to close, 101 years after it was established.

The group based in Haddington, East Lothian is expected to be disbanded because of a lack of volunteers and problems of storing weapons at the secondary school.

Parents and pupils at Knox Academy described the decision to close the group as a terrible loss and like "breaking up a family".

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In an open letter sent at the end of the school term, head teacher Janis Craig said:

"Although the contingent has a long and proud history, they celebrated their centenary in 2008, the contingent has faced a number of challenges over the last few years.

"During discussions we recognise the continuing challenge in recruiting enthusiastic and committed Combined Cadet Force (CCF) staff from within the body of school staff; also it has become clear that the issue of storing and training with the Cadet Rifle on school premises is beyond resolution.

"This suggests a continuing challenge to develop and sustain a CCF under current arrangements.

"Therefore, we've come to the reluctant conclusion that Knox Academy can no longer sustain the partnership and the head teacher has applied to the joining cadet force secretariat for the contingent to close."

Both the Ministry of Defence and East Lothian Council said closure was for the head teacher to decide.

There are just 20 pupils currently in the Knox cadets, which at its peak, had 80 members.

A Facebook group set up by the cadets, calling for the group to be saved, attracted 398 members in just four days.

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In her letter Ms Craig suggested an army cadet unit could be established in Haddington independently of the school.

She said: "We feel that this sort of arrangement might allow expansion of the opportunities available and might even lead to increased cadet membership."

However, it is understood the question of storing the cadet rifles on the school premises were a key issue. Mrs Craig's letter hints at this in saying a suitable location for the new force to train and to store its "weapons" would be needed for any new force.

A meeting is to be held for parents on the proposal in January, with the date still be confirmed.

Donald McMillan whose son Gregor, 15, attends the CCF at Knox, and whose daughter Kayleigh, 17, was a part of the unit for six years, said he was very disappointed at the proposal to close it down.

"The cadet force has been a large part of both of the children's lives since they joined Knox Academy," he said. "The school provides a very good education, it's marvellous, and I think the CCF has been an integral part of that.

"The school and the wider community will lose a huge amount from not having a CCF.

"It will be a huge loss for the town. As an ex-teacher I know any educational involvement with extra-curricular activity makes a huge difference.

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"Their proposal to move to an ACF which is done away from the school loses that aspect of it. It's a terrible, terrible loss."

A spokesman for East Lothian Council said: "The council has been very supportive and we certainly would be very keen on setting up a new detachment within the community, but in this instance it is viewed very much as a decision for the head teacher."

Ms Craig was not available for comment yesterday.

Labour leader Iain Gray, who is the local MSP, expressed concern at the decision, said: "A constituent raised this issue with me; but they received assurance from the director of education that the school would not be closing the Combined Cadet Force. I will be looking into this."

An MoD spokeswoman said the decision was one for the head teacher and cuts had been made to training cadet instructors.

She said: "We are continuing to provide cadet training but instructors will not receive Paid Training Days although we will continue to meet their costs.

"This is due to resources being focused on current operations in Afghanistan."

'We're like a big family that's being broken up'

KAYLEIGH McMillan, 17, was a cadet and pupil at Knox Academy for six years.

She said: "It has pretty much been my life for the past six years. The general feeling amongst the senior cadets (at the closure news] was initially just outrage.

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"We are like a big family and it feels that has been broken up. It's been a way of bringing us all together, the training is world class.

"By the time I was 17 I was teaching the younger ones, who were 11 and 12, who I would never have spoken to otherwise.

"And it gave them someone to look up to, plus it gives some pupils something to focus on.

"It was the social life as well as the training. The highlight every year was a week away at camp with rock climbing, abseiling as well as military tactical exercises and drill.

"We fire guns on a controlled range under the direction of trained staff – mostly full-time military soldiers. There's one adult to every five cadets so it was never dangerous.

"It could have been kept open if it had been fought harder for."

Ms McMillan is planning to go to South Africa to work in a hospital in January, before studying medicine at Cambridge University next year.