This article on the UK’s Service Cadet Organisations is divided into Five Parts:


2.0     Introduction

“I am constantly struck by the value of the service cadet organisations, both to their members and to the wider communities from which they come.” (Brown, 2018).

This part of the article outlines the history and role of the four service cadet organisations. As a general rule, being a cadet is voluntary, although for some independent schools membership is compulsory (Section 2.4).

Each service cadet organisation offers a variety of military, adventurous, and community activities, and is open to boys and girls from any background.

On 01 April 2017, there were approximately (MOD, 2016; MOD, 2017):

  • 126,080 community and CCF cadets, down from 131,000 on 01 April 2014.
  • 84,010 community cadets, down from 88,260 on 01 April 2014.
    • 13,630 Sea Cadet Corps;
    • 41,040 Army Cadet Force; and
    • 33,590 Air Training Corps.
  • 42,070 CCF cadets, up from 42,950 on 01 April 2014.

Although some of the activities and training are common to all of these youth organisations, they each have their own values, activities and training priorities.

2.1     Army Cadet Force

The Army Cadet Force (ACF), also known as the Army Cadets, aims to provide young people with army-orientated activities (MOD, 2016).

The ACF follows the aims and values of the British Army. Activities include drill, skill at arms, shooting, map and compass, field-craft and first aid and up to 40% of a cadet’s time is spent on adventurous training activities. There are also opportunities to become involved with volunteer or charitable work.

There are approximately 41,000 ACF cadets in 1,700 locations across the UK, supported by approximately 9,500 adult volunteers.

The ACF is one of the largest youth organisations and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010.

“…female cadets now make up 31.6 per cent of the total cadet body. Those declaring as coming from ethnic minorities are around 10 per cent, although the ACF does not require anyone to declare this so the figure could be higher.” (Army Cadet Volunteer, 2018, p.16).

2.2     Air Training Corps

The Air Training Corps (ATC), also known as the Air Cadets and the RAF Cadets, aims to provide young people with aviation-orientated activities (MOD, 2016).

The ATC follows the aims and values of the Royal Air Force.

There are approximately 33,000 ATC cadets in 900 squadrons across the UK.

First formed in 1958, Air Experience Flights (AEF) provide air cadets with the opportunity to have a flight each year, with a number of cadets going on to earn a flying scholarship.

The ATC along with the CCF (RAF) forms the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO).

2.3     Sea Cadet Corps

The Sea Cadet Corps (SCC), or Sea Cadets, aims to provide young people with adventurous nautical activities (MOD, 2016).

The Sea Cadets, which includes Royal Navy and Royal Marines cadets, follows the aim and values of the Naval Service.

There are approximately 14,000 Sea Cadets in 400 units across the UK, supported by approximately 6,000 adult volunteers (MOD, 2016). The Sea Cadets is led by the Captain Sea Cadets (OF-5), a serving Royal Navy officer, and is supported by the Staff Royal Marines Officer, a serving Colour Sergeant (OR-6).

Both boys and girls can join one of the 127 Royal Marines Cadets Detachments from the age of 13 (Sea Cadets, 2018), although they can join as a Junior Cadet, with the Sea Cadets, from the age of 10.

Afloat training is the defining activity of the Sea Cadet, and the Royal Navy proficiency syllabus bases its training emphasis on leadership, afloat activities and adventurous training. Annual camps are held at Britannia Royal Naval College (Dartmouth), HMS Bristol (Portsmouth) and the Garelochead Training Area (Scotland).

2.4     Combined Cadet Force

“…it allows our cadets to look smart and impress their parents in a way mere school reports cannot.” (Independent School Parent, 2010).

The Combined Cadet Force (CCF) has one of the longest histories of all the cadet forces sponsored by the MOD, dating back to the 1850s when a number of public (aka private) schools (including Rossall, Felstead, Eton and Rugby) formed units which were attached to Rifle Volunteer Battalions for Home Defence (MOD, 2016). The CCF recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.

In 1948, the name changed from the Officer Training Corps.

Since the 1950s, the CCF has been recognised as a voluntary youth organisation with the aim of providing an opportunity for young people to exercise responsibility and leadership in a disciplined environment. The CCF is a unique educational partnership that operates in independent schools across the UK, including state funded schools since [YEAR].

Each school contingent is run by a team of adult volunteers drawn, in the main, from teachers within the school, although outside volunteers are often invited to help. Schools may employ a school staff instructor (SSI), either full- or part-time, who is usually a retired senior non-commissioned officer (SNCO).

Joining the CCF at a state funded school is voluntary and is (now) generally voluntary at an independent school, although some independent schools have compulsory membership in one or more school years.

CCF contingents may comprise up to three Service sections: one each for the army, RAF, and Royal Navy (Royal Marines cadets form as a detachment of the Royal Navy section), and promote the aims and values of the Services they represent. Although most cadets join army sections, approximately 15,000 youngsters choose RAF, Navy and Marines contingents.

Head teachers are an important component in a CCF contingent, requiring the full support of the head to work (MOD, 2016). The head also nominates the contingent commander and members of staff who are willing to become adult volunteers (although schools also recruit external adult volunteers). Time for CCF activities are integrated into the school curriculum.

The MOD provides the school/CCF contingent with a variety of resources including: uniform; weapons and ammunition; training advice and assistance; loans of stores and equipment; access to military transport; and remuneration to SSI’s and officers. The school provides CCF cadets with: time within the curriculum; accommodation and storage; the adult volunteers; and enduring commitment to the CCF contingent.

Prior to the current Cadet Expansion Programme (Section 4.1), in England, there were 237 CCF contingents based in both state and independent schools and colleges (Wood, 2014):

  • 61 in state funded schools; and
  • 176 in independent schools.

As of October 2016, there were more than 40,000 cadets in 275 CCF contingents, with about one-third in state funded schools (MOD, 2016). The CCF (RAF) along with the ATC forms the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO).

  • There are approximately 200 RAF sections with about 7,800 cadets and 540 adult volunteers.
  • There are approximately 150 RN sections with around 5,300 cadets and 640 adult volunteers.
  • There are approximately 260 Army sections with around 29,000 cadets and 2,100 adult volunteers.

High-profile former cadets include Eddie Izzard, David Cameron, David Walliams, Jeremy Clarkson, the Prince of Wales, and Princes William and Harry; the latter achieving Eton’s highest cadet rank (Independent School Parent, 2010).

2.5     What are the Training Opportunities for Cadets?

“At annual inspections at places like Epsom, Eton and Kimbolton, you’d think you were watching Trooping the Colour, with marching bands, tanks and banners. At the other end of the scale, you get 37 cadets lined up on the tarmac of an inner-city comprehensive marching to music from a tape recorder.” (Independent School Parent, 2010).

Training opportunities for cadets occur during weekly parades in school (CCF-only), whole-day and weekend training periods (field days), at annual military camps, on courses run by the armed forces specifically for cadets, and through adventurous training expeditions arranged on an ad hoc basis.

Cadets follow the syllabus appropriate to the section they join (i.e. army, navy, or air force), but all include drill, skill at arms, and use of map and compass. Some also have survival and field-craft training.

Adventurous training opportunities include mountain walking, canoeing, gliding, and offshore sailing.

Cadets also undertake a two-week summer camp which will involve a number of the above activities.

Cadets may also have the opportunity to gain BTEC qualifications in public services and music.

“No one felt that the CCF directly helped academic performance of cadets, but where cadets could gain externally accredited qualifications this clearly helped improve prospects and added value to CVs.” (Wood, 2014, p.26).

2.6     What is the Star Training Syllabus?

Cadets within the ACF follow a progressive multi-subject training and testing star-based syllabus known as the Army Proficiency Certificate (APC).

The APC have five levels (Table 1), ranging from one to four stars, with the rarely achieved Master Cadet being the top level.

Table 1: APC Levels
APC Level Badge Duration Description
Basic 12 weeks
  •  Training in preparation for the basic test.
  • Once passed became a Cadet.
    Also taught Heartstart First Aid.
1-star 9 months
  • Complete 1-star elements of APC.
  • Advance foundation-level knowledge of the APC.
  • Must also complete a one-day hike to pass.
2-star 1 year
  • Complete 2-star elements of APC.
    Complete Junior First Aid Course.
  • Complete Bronze DofE: a one-night, two-day hike.
3-star 1 year
  • Complete 3-star elements of APC.
  • Complete the Cadet Force Instructional Techniques (CFIT) Course.
  • Complete Silver DofE: a two-night, three-day hike.
4-star 1 year
  • Complete 4-star elements of APC.
  • Demonstrate proof of progressive training in two subjects or courses.
Master Cadet 1 week
  • Complete the Master Cadet Course.
  • Recommendation from ACF County Commandant.


  • First Aid: 3 and 4 star First Aid courses roughly equate to the Emergency First Aid and First Aid at Work courses.
  • Cadet CIS Syllabus has radio training from 1- to 4-star.
  • APC 2 Star Navigation element, introduced in 2013, modelled closely on the National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS) (Army Cadet Volunteer, 2018, p.23-25). It equips cadets to navigate successfully on the APC 2 Star and DofE Bronze expeditions.

Subjects within the APC include (ACF, 2018c):

  • Cadet and the Community.
  • Drill and Turnout.
  • Expeditions.
  • Field-craft.
  • First Aid.
  • Junior Cadet Instructor Cadre (Section 2.7).
  • Navigation.
  • Military Knowledge.
  • Music.
  • Piping and Drumming.
  • Senior Cadet Instructor Cadre (Section 2.8).
  • Shooting.
  • Signals.
  • Skill at Arms.
  • Sport.

Cadets who complete the one-star training are eligible to receive the BTEC Level 1 Certificate in Teamwork, Personal Skills and Citizenship (SCQF Level 4).

Introduced in 2017, the ATC version is known as the Progressive Training Syllabus: Guide to the Progressive Training Syllabus 2017. The Sea Cadets follow a similar syllabus.

The reader can find very good information on the APC @

2.7     Junior Cadet Instructor Course

The Junior Cadet Instructor Course (JCIC), also known as the Junior Cadet Instructor Cadre, is part of the 3-star training syllabus, and all cadets at this level take the course.

The JCIC is usually delivered at county-level and is designed to:

  1. Initiate the senior cadet into the techniques of instruction by teaching the cadet how to instruct new entrants and 1-Star cadets in drill, turnout and military knowledge, map and compass, skill-at-arms, and field-craft.
  2. Assess the cadet’s ability as a potential instructor, with particular reference to their possible selection to undertake the Senior Cadet Instructors Course (see below).

2.8     Senior Cadet Instructor Course

The Senior Cadet Instructor Course (SCIC), also known as the Senior Cadet Instructor Cadre, is part of the 4-star training syllabus, and is an optional subject “…that relatively few cadets achieve during their careers…” (Anderson, 2018, p.42).

The SCIC is usually delivered at Brigade-level by a Cadet Training Team (CTT) over one-week and builds on a cadet’s experience and develops their leadership skills, and the responsibilities of instruction.

As such, it is designed to develop the senior cadet to further their knowledge of the techniques of instruction and leadership to instruct new entrants, 1-Star and 2-star cadets in drill, turnout and military knowledge, map and compass, skill-at-arms, and field-craft.

The SCIC typically involves a two-day field exercise including:

  • Reconnaissance (recce) patrols to gather intelligence for an ambush.
  • Training in Built Up Areas (TIBUA).
  • Training in Woods and Forests (TIWAF).
  • Platoon attack.

Cadets will undertake leadership roles, including Platoon Sergeant and Section Commander, and there is a trophy for ‘Best Cadet’.

2.9     Master Cadet Course

The Master Cadet Course was established in 1989 to advance to the leadership, instructional and administrative abilities of post 4-star cadets (ACF, 2018d).

The MCC is usually delivered over one-week, three times per year, at the Cadet Training Centre (CTC) (Section 2.13). Eligibility criteria for the MCC includes:

  • Be aged 16 or older;
  • No minimum rank (previously a minimum rank of Sergeant) (CTC Frimley Park, 2018);
  • Have passed field-craft as a progressive subject at 4-star;
  • Have passed the SCIC (Section 2.8); and
  • Have an in-date weapon handling test certificate on the Cadet General Purpose Rifle L98A2.

Training during the MCC includes:

  • Up to 10 Battle Exercises per day;
  • A log run;
  • An Obstacle course;
  • An orienteering test;
  • Section Battle Drills;
  • Planning and conducting a basic Field-craft Lesson; and
  • Navigating using an OS map at day and night.

Successful completion of the MCC means a cadet is eligible to be appointed as a Master Cadet following a recommendation from their ACF County Commandant.

2.10     Champion Cadet

The Champion Cadet competition is held at the Cadet Training Centre (CTC) (Section 2.13), usually in April (previously September/October), and lasts just under 48 hours.

Previously, ACF County Commandants were asked to nominate their best Master Cadets for the competition, but the MCC criteria is no longer required. Criteria include (CTC Frimley Park, 2018):

  • Candidates must hold an in date (valid for the duration of the competition) WHT on the BSA Scorpion rifle and L98A2 GP Rifle; and
  • Completed APC 3 star.

“The course content is a closely guarded secret, but competitors will take part in a number of great events designed to test cadets in subjects selected from across the 3 star APC syllabus ranging from shooting to first aid.” (Clayton, 2018, p.11).

The competitions tests both physical and mental aptitude, and requires cadets to compete against each other, both individually and as members of a team, in a range of activities. These include:

  • Command tasks;
  • Weapon handling;
  • Map and compass skills (including night navigation);
  • Foot drill;
  • First aid;
  • Logical problem solving;
  • A comprehensive test of the entire ACF APC syllabus; and
  • A panel interview.

The competition winner is invited to the final parade of the MCC (held at CTC in April) where they are awarded a solid silver engraved medal (which they keep) and also presented with the Claire Shore Trophy, which their ACF county holds for one year.

As of 2018, the ACF was considering the introduction of a Champion Cadet Competition badge to be worn on cadets’ uniform. The competition was also brought forward to April, from October, in 2018 to avoid clashing with the annual camp season.

2.11     Cadet Leadership Courses

The aim of the various Cadet Leadership Courses (CLC) is to develop cadets’ initiative and self-reliance and to exercise them in the problems of practical leadership. These courses include:

  • Contingent Leadership Courses:
    • Most Contingents run their own short internal leadership courses for older cadets, aimed at training potential Junior Non-commissioned officers (JNCOs) (Corporals) and Senior NCOs (Sergeants and above).
    • These courses may be single service led or run jointly across all the sections in the Contingent.
  • Cadet Leadership Courses:
    • There are three sets of Cadet Leadership Courses, which are aimed at 16 and 17 year olds.
    • Activities include minor tactics, watermanship, command task, sport, skill-at-arms, and endurance training.
    • Each course lasts a week and ends with the award of the Cadet Leadership Badge, if successfully completed.
    • The ACF, via the Brigade CTTs, delivers three courses over the Easter period at Nesscliffe in Shropshire and three courses, usually in July, at the CTC Frimley Park.
    • Sea Cadets may also take part in these courses.
    • The Air Cadet Leadership Course is delivered at RAF Cranwell, usually each July.
  • The Air Cadet Junior Leaders Course:
    • The course usually runs from September to the following Easter.
    • It involves nine weekend training camps and an assessment week.
    • This is a physically demanding and requires real commitment and determination.
    • The course is aimed at older cadets, who must be 17 or older in the year they begin the course.
    • It is open to Sea Cadets and Army Cadets, and culminates in the award of a Level Two Certificate in Team Leadership from the Institute of Leadership and Management.

2.12     What are the Cadet Ranks?

Table 2 highlights the cadet ranks within the various organisations.

Table 2: Cadet Ranks
APC Level Army Cadets Air Cadets Sea Cadets CFF
Master [1, 2] Cadet Under Officer [3] ? ? ?
Master Cadet Battalion/Regimental Sergeant Major [4] Cadet Warrant Officer Petty Officer Cadet Cadet Sergeant
4-star Cadet Company Sergeant Major ? ? ?
4-star Cadet Colour/Staff Sergeant Cadet Flight Sergeant Leading Cadet Cadet Corporal
3-star Cadet Sergeant Cadet Sergeant Able Cadet Cadet Lance Corporal
2-star Cadet Corporal/Bombardier Cadet Corporal Ordinary Cadet Marine Cadet 1st Class
1-star Cadet Lance Corporal/Bombardier Cadet Junior Corporal (CCF (RAF) Only) Cadet 1st Marine Cadet 2nd Class
N/A Cadet Cadet Cadet Marine Cadet


  1. After a cadet has attained their fourth star, they have the chance of becoming a Master Cadet. After having successfully completed the Master Cadet Course at the Cadet Training Centre Frimley Park, their ACF County Commandant will decide whether or not to recommend them for Master Cadet. This is at the Commandant’s discretion.
  2. On one webpage the ACF states that both a Cadet B/RSM and Cadet Under Officer must have passed the Master Cadet Course (ACF, 2018a). On another page the ACF states they must have passed APC 4-star (ACF, 2018b).
  3. The ACF County Commandant may appoint a 4-star cadet as a Cadet Under Officer if they are thought to have officer potential and is in their last year as a cadet.
  4. There is only one Cadet RSM in an ACF County at a time.

2.13     What is the National Cadet Training Centre?

The National Cadet Training Centre (CTC) Frimley Park is located in Camberley, Surrey, and is the national centre of excellence for cadet training.

The CTC Frimley Park was established in 1959 and delivers training to ACF, CCF and adult volunteers. As well as delivering the MCC and Champion Cadet Competition, it also provides a variety of courses at detachment, company, and county-levels to adult volunteers.

The CTC is led by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4), who is assisted by a Chief Instructor, a Major (OF-3) (Clayton, 2018).

A Staff Sergeant Instructor (SSI) acts as the Lead for the Adult Leadership and Management (ALM) course for Detachment Commanders (Army Cadet Volunteer, 2018, p.26-27).

2.14     What is the Cadet Centre for Adventure Training?

The Cadet Centre for Adventure Training (CCAT), headquartered at Capel Curig, delivers adventurous training (AT) qualifications and experience courses to cadets aged 16 or older (ACF and CCF) and adult volunteers.

They offer nationally accredited courses at the following levels: basic/foundation; intermediate; and leader/instructor. Courses include:

  • Summer, winter and alpine mountaineering;
  • Rock climbing;
  • Winter climbing;
  • Caving;
  • Open canoeing;
  • Kayaking (Sea & Inland); and
  • Skiing.

CCAT has three main UK based delivery centres:

  • Capel Curig Training Camp located in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
  • Halton Training Camp, near Lancaster.
  • Dingwall Cadet Training Centre located just north of Inverness.

CCAT also utilise overseas bases in Germany, France, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.

2.15     What Qualifications can Cadets Gain?

Cadets can gain a variety of qualifications from a number of different organisations, although the exact qualifications on offer will vary between the cadet service organisations.

  • Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualifications:
    • BTECs are equivalent to 4 GCSE’s at grade C (four standard grades a Level 3 in Scotland).
    • BTEC vocational qualifications include:
      • BTEC Level 1 in Teamwork, Personal Skills and Citizenship (SCQF Level 4).
      • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Teamwork and Personal Development in the Community (SCQF Level 5).
      • BTEC in Marine Engineering.
      • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Music for Practical Performance (SCQF Level 5).
  • Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) qualifications:
    • ILM Level 2 Award for Young Leaders.
    • ILM Level 2 Award in Effective Team Member Skills.
    • ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management.
  • Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award:
    • This is a voluntary, non-competitive programme of practical, cultural and adventurous activities for young people aged 14-25 (year 8 for cadets).
    • A young person can undertake a DofE programme at three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold.
    • Each have differing criteria for entry and the level of commitment necessary to gain each award.
    • Cadets who meet the age criteria can become DofE participants and work towards their own DofE Award.
    • An information leaflet can be found in the Useful Publications section.
  • Royal Yachting Association (RYA) qualifications.
  • British Canoeing Union (BCU) qualifications.
  • British Sub-Aqua Club (BASC) or Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
  • St John Ambulance Brigade (First Aid) qualifications.

Managed and funded by the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation (CVQO), the more academic qualifications are free to all cadets over the age of 16 and provide a formal acknowledgment of the skills learned through cadet activities.

2.16     Flying/Gliding Scholarships

“Air Cadet Pilot Scholarship which offers 12 hours of flying with the aim of sending cadets solo.” (Turnor, 2017, p.17).

The first eight hours of training are dedicated to the basics of flying: climbing; turning; and level flight with the instructor doing the take offs and landings (Turnor, 2017). Cadets are taught all aspects of the flight including: start-ups; taxiing; take-offs; radio calls; stalling; and approaches to the airport. Before going solo, a cadet will first need to pass an exam comprising information on: emergency procedures; radiotelephony; air law; aircraft stats; and circuit procedures. Some cadets may learn to fly an aircraft, solo, before learning to drive a car!

2.17     What are the Benefits to Young People?

The benefits to young people include (Lafayeedney, 2013; RFCA NE, 2018):

  • Increased confidence, self-esteem and resilience;
  • Development of self-discipline, self-reliance and leadership;
  • Greater aspirations, along with opportunities to gain qualifications;
  • Sense of service to others, to the community and team-work; and
  • Action, adventure, fun and friendship.

“Joining a cadet unit can improve the behaviour of children who have been excluded from school and help disadvantaged children reach their potential, a study has found.” (Lepper, 2017).

Wood (2014, p.7) suggests there “is very little existing evidence on the impact of cadet organisations on young people’s attainment and outcomes.” Wood (2014) suggests that because being a cadet is generally a voluntary activity, that the type of young person who is attracted to become a cadet already has the associated positive traits (such as increased attendance etc.), as opposed to the cadets causing such behaviours and states this needs to be considered when interpreting findings.

However, a four-year study by the University of Northampton’s Institute for Social Innovation and Impact, commissioned by the MOD, found that excluded children who joined the cadets were more likely to have improved attendance and behaviour on their return to school.

Initial findings from the study also found improvements in behaviour, communication and social skills, school attendance and confidence levels as a result of membership of the cadets.

However, the report did note that the paperwork involved in running cadet units was distracting adult cadet volunteers from their work with cadets.

Other studies (conducted in the US and UK, and cited by Wood) also suggest that the cadet experience is generally positive in its outcome (Anderson-Butcher et al., 2004; Feinstein et al., 2006; Glover & Sparks, 2009; Moon et al., 2010).

2.18     What are the Benefits to Schools and the Local Community?

The benefits to schools and the local community include (RFCA NE, 2018):

  • An observed improvement in student behaviour and discipline;
  • Improved relationships between students and teachers;
  • Positive role modelling by cadets for other young people;
  • Wider opportunities for staff development as Cadet Force Adult Volunteers (Section 4.2);
  • Increased visibility and reputation of the school and its students in the community; and
  • Practical cadet support of community activities and events.

2.19     What is the Lord-Lieutenant’s Cadet?

Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant’s Cadets are selected for outstanding service both within the Cadet Movement and in their community, and is one of the highest honours a cadet can receive.

The Lord-Lieutenant’s Cadets are selected from young people in the SCC, ACF, and the ATC across the local region. They will have completed their training programmes, e.g. the Army Proficiency Certificate, and made a significant contribution to the life of their community. They “…are invited to assist the Lord-Lieutenant on Parades, Royal Visits, military and civic events and services and thus gain an insight into the opportunities for public service as adults.” (North Yorkshire Lieutenancy, 2018).

HM Lord-Lieutenants’ are usually selected as the President or Vice-President of the local RFCA.

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