The CCF – supporting character development in a boarding school
Thomas Garnier, Headmaster of Pangbourne College
There has always been a strong connection between boarding schools and the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The CCF has its roots in the Volunteer Corps which were established in six public schools (all boarding schools) in 1859 and 1860: Felsted, Rossall, Eton, Harrow, Hurstpierpoint, Rugby and Tonbridge. The number of these school cadet corps grew steadily and became amalgamated into the Officer Training Corps in 1908 as the Junior Division and then into the newly-formed Combined Cadet Force in 1948, which also included school-based units of the Sea Cadet Corps and the Air Training Corps.
Until 1969 Pangbourne College was a nautical college with the specific aim to educate future officers in the Merchant and Royal Navies. It had no need of a CCF unit until 1975 when it was seen as desirable to support the College’s new aim to provide an excellent all-round education to boys (and from 1990 to girls).
Most boarding schools have a broad view of education, recognising that intellectual growth is just one aspect of human development. Other aspects flourish through participation in extra-curricular activities such as sport, music, drama and other clubs and societies, and through a well-developed rhythm of community life which fosters strong relationships and social, moral, cultural and spiritual awareness. The CCF programme helps build pupils’ leadership and teamwork skills and develops the character of the individual.
As nearly all teaching staff in boarding schools are expected to play a full part in school life outside the classroom, there is also usually strong support for staff who wish to become Cadet Force Adult Volunteers (CFAVs) – they benefit because the training they undergo and their experience of CCF gives them transferable skills, just as is the case with the cadets themselves. At Pangbourne, the programme is strongly supported at senior level not least because it actively embraces the College’s flag values of kindness, selflessness, moral courage, initiative, industry, resilience and integrity.
Pangbourne’s large campus provides the ideal environment for CCF activities – facilities include a purpose-built CCF Headquarters, 25m indoor range and low- and high-ropes courses. More than half the pupils are involved in challenging and enjoyable activities which nurture their interests and enthusiasms. The CCF is compulsory for pupils in Year 10 and the first two terms of Year 11, after which it is a voluntary activity. This means around 220 pupils are involved in the CCF – approximately 140 in the Army section, 55 in the Royal Marines detachment and 20 in the Royal Navy. In other schools, some have an element of compulsion whereas most schools now operate entirely voluntary contingents.
The CCF and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DoE) work alongside each other at the College with pupils often combining the two and taking part in DoE expeditions as part of their CCF training. These opportunities and resources are shared through partnerships with Luckley House and a local state school, Denefield Academy, whose pupils join the Pangbourne CCF for weekly activities and field days – to the mutual benefit of all. Such partnerships are now quite common.
CCF adventurous training and military-based activities take place once a week on Thursday afternoons with those in the RN Section able to, for example, sail and dive, RM cadets taking part in bushcraft and shooting, and the Army engaging in field work and other military skills. The activities are diverse and range from gaining skills in something as simple as achieving a miraculous shine on polished boots and ironing perfectly pressed trousers to learning field craft, navigation, survival skills and a host of other useful skills for life. A key strength of the CCF is the development of senior cadets, who gain valuable leadership experience by instructing and overseeing their juniors.
There are also opportunities to attend camps and courses run by HM Forces which enable progression towards nationally recognised qualifications, for example in sailing (RYA), open water diving (BSAC) and lifesaving (National Pool Lifeguard). A field day is arranged each term where pupils visit a military unit, such as HMS Raleigh, or training areas like Bramley, Longmoor and Bisley to carry out training with RN or Army personnel.
Major Colin Hearn, formerly a Royal Marines RSM and Pangbourne’s Contingent Commander, explains: ‘The CCF takes pupils out of their comfort zones and gives them fresh challenges outside the classroom. It makes them better people and better citizens as it challenges their perceptions and encourages them to take part in activities they would not normally engage in. I strongly believe it gives them an edge in preparation for their future life. CCF not only helps our pupils to develop, reason, question and enquire, but also assists them with their future education and careers.’
Thomas Garnier was educated at Radley College and then studied Physics at Bristol University. He was a Seaman Officer in the Royal Navy from 1987 to 1994. On resigning his commission he completed a PGCE at Oxford University before becoming a Physics teacher and housemaster at Abingdon School from 1995 to 2005. He has been Headmaster at Pangbourne College since 2005. He is the Representative to the CCF Association for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and the Independent Schools Council (ISC). He is married with two sons and his interests include his family, rowing, sailing and music.