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Influencing Strategy Blog | Martin Whitfield MSP

Gary Seath 8 months ago

Influencing Policy

We have combined forces with young people from the armed forces community to co-develop our influencing strategy and manifesto.

Working directly with young people means lived experience is embedded at every step to deliver meaningful change for over 12,500 children and young people from armed forces and veteran families.

Together, we continue to work as a force for good to ensure Scotland is a place where they will feel increasingly heard, understood, respected, and represented.

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We have invited some of our external partners to get involved in our launch activities by writing a series of blogs that focus on our five manifesto themes.

For this week’s theme of education, we are delighted to introduce Martin Whitfield MSP for South Scotland.

Martin Whitfield MSP

Martin lives in Prestonpans with his wife Rachel and their two boys.

He grew up in Gosforth, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. After graduating in Business Law from Huddersfield University he worked as a solicitor until 2001, before leaving the legal profession to retrain as a teacher at Edinburgh University.

He moved to East Lothian and taught at Prestonpans Primary School from 2007 to 2017 and was a local Educational Institute of Scotland Representative, as well as a council member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Prior to his election to Holyrood he was teaching at Dirleton Primary School, East Lothian.

In June 2017 Martin was elected to the UK Parliament as the Member of Parliament for East Lothian.

In Parliament, he was a backbencher, sitting on the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee. During his time in the Commons he was one of the first MPs to call for Universal Credit to be scrapped, campaigned for greater awareness of ‘hidden’ disabilities and promoted local industries, including East Lothian’s first-class food and drink sector.

He was involved in various all-party parliamentary groups with a constituency interest, including serving as Chair of both the Timber Industries APPG and the Any Disability APPG, which he was instrumental in establishing. He also served as one of the UK Parliament’s representatives to the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organisation.

Martin was elected to the Scottish Parliament on 6 May 2021 as one of the Members for South Scotland, Martin is currently the Scottish Labour Party’s Business Manager at Holyrood and Shadow Minister for Children, Young People and Lifelong Learning. He is also Convenor of Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.


The call for a thriving education is one that is well-chosen.

Thriving is such an important word meaning – as it does – growing, developing, or being successful. Surely this is the very basis of what we would want from an education system for all our young people, but I do not believe you would find many who would argue that that is the experience our young people have now.

So, if it is the right goal for all our young people, it is of course the goal for our forces children. More than a goal, should it not be our expectation!

I have had the good fortune to teach several primary-aged children from armed forces and veteran families over my years, and they always remind me of the Martin Luther King quote, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” They remind me of this because I am yet to meet a forces child that does not already have character. One that has been forged in both challenging and loving environments, young people who have grown up with uncertainty and, yes, fear in some cases.

These are young people who are sometimes careful to share their story, but still want friends and to play; children who often offer others far more experience than they have yet had; and who sometimes need a calm steady environment to help them process private feelings.

Many adults working in education have no personal knowledge of the lifestyle of forces children, at no fault of the young people themselves.

As a result of this these adults, and other children, sometimes struggle to engage with forces children. This is all part of why this goal is so important.

The calls made are not unreasonable, and I believe they reflect challenges that society has, rather than those of our Forces children. A system where a young person understands what they have learnt and how it fits into a new school or a new education curriculum is not unreasonable, nor is the call that young people should be part of the creation and collation of that information.

The data needs to accurately reflect the journey the young person has made. We also need recognition that, at times, a forces child may require additional support and a recognition of the funding that this will need.

The education that forces children and young people receive (although it is far too often hard fought for) must learn to value the character that they have and give opportunity for the young person to think intensively and to think critically. When society does that, we meet that human right to an education.

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