What’s the Army Foundation College like?

The college is graded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted but has had some serious problems.

All soldiers starting between age 16 and 17.5 go to the Army Foundation College in Harrogate for their basic training. It’s big – about 1,300 new soldiers train there every year.

If you join the army for a combat role or logistics, your course is usually a year long, otherwise it’s six months. (Find out more about signing up for a specific army role here.)

What education do I get?

The Army Foundation College is really a military training centre and not like a local community college.

The college has been graded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, though this is for the welfare support that’s available, not for the quality of the education. So you can’t compare it with a local community college that’s been graded ‘outstanding’.

You get three subjects to choose from — basic courses in English, maths and ICT — and you study up to a day a week in all.

If you did well in your GCSEs (or Nationals in Scotland), then you’re put onto a BTEC course, though it’s not a full qualification.

And is the welfare ‘outstanding’?

Even though the college has a high grade for welfare, there have been many complaints that staff have abused recruits:

  • 62 complaints of violence by staff, including assault and battery, have been recorded since 2014, according to the army.
  • In 2021 alone, investigations were opened into sexual offences against 22 recruits at the Army Foundation College, according to the Ministry of Defence. Three of the accused were members of college staff.

Ofsted has not mentioned this in its reports, but you can check the facts here and here.

What’s daily life like?

When you arrive your mobile is taken off you. For the first six weeks you’re not allowed to leave the base at all. You’re not allowed any visitors and you’re only allowed one phone call a day (your phone is given back to you for an hour or so in the evening). After the first six weeks there’s a bit more freedom.

At the beginning, a lot of the time is spent in physical training, marching, drill. Some time later on is spent on the rifle ranges. You’ll go off base a couple of times for military exercises and end the course with ‘battle camp’, when you also learn to use a bayonet (a blade on the end of the rifle). You finish with a parade. Then you go to do your ‘Phase 2’ training for the army role you signed up for.

Find out more about army training here.

What do recruits think of it?

Some recruits really enjoy the Army Foundation College – and some hate it.

The good news is that if you want to leave then you can — as long as you haven’t turned 18 (or, if you have turned 18, you haven’t yet been in the army for six months).

According to the Ministry of Defence, about a third of recruits decide to leave the army while at the college.

Find out more about when you can and can’t leave the army here.

Sources: Ministry of Defence, British army, Guardian, Times, Ofsted.