How to keep things interesting with basic staff knowledge

I’m the Sqn TO & I’ve been looking at trying to look at how to make things interesting for cadets on parade nights… We are currently parading around 60 cdts on a parade night.

**The first 20 cadets - require 1 instructor to look after **
I have probationers (or new recruits, whatever you wanna call them) which I have a fairly solid training program for, so they are sorted. I also have a training program sorted for them once they pass first class (pretty much all of the Blue level courses of the PTS that you can achieve on the Sqn). This should sustain them for around 4 - 6 months.

10 senior cadets and cadet NCO’s - MAY require 1 instructor to look after depending on the topic
We also have a band which we are looking to get back up and running, but we have cadets who are already at a good level to pick this back up and have limited instruments so can’t get everyone involved. The are also all in the middle of doing BTEC’s, Gold/Silver D of E and will all be playing a major part in our Wing Field Day Teams which we will start working on in March. So again, this and a mixture of last minute nights that need to be fitted in will sustain them for 4-6 months.

The other 30 cadets :frowning:
These cadets range from 13 - 17 with all different levels of classification. The have all done all the Blue level of PTS. We can’t do Bronze, Silver or Gold levels of the PTS becase as you all know, the idea of those are to be run at Wing, Reg and Corps levels. When they get to this stage after doing first class and all blue badges, majority of them leave because we just don’t have a lot for them that they can work towards. E.g. the 13 year olds are too young for D of E so cant work towards this.

My other issue is my Sqn consists of 3 rooms. 2 rooms approx. 3m x 12m and one room 3m x 7m (this obviously doesn’t include all furniture and equipment in these rooms, so thats even less room). What the hell do I do with them? I already have the probationers taking one room, then the 10 senior cadets and NCO’s taking another, so splitting this group of 30 mixed cadets isn’t feasible for the space we have for the colder months. We also only have 4 members of staff (2 who don’t parade regularly) and then one new CI, who needs training (yet another thing for me to deal with). Our staff team do our best and tbf we achieve quite a lot for the little we have, but we don’t exactly specialise in anything enough to run projects or lots of different levels of classification lessons.

The projects I’m planning so far with the basic knowledge we have are modelling for beginners (since none of the cadets have dabbled much in it, we’re also looking at doing the Duke of York Comms qual, maybe even flight planning (but no one is strong in the subject and we only have 1 flight sim so is probably not going to happen) but apart from that, I’m not sure what to do with 30 mixed cadets. We’ve already rinsed map reading, fieldcraft, comms, sports, all the STEM stuff on sharepoint, first aid and leadership tasks.

I’m currently talking to the outreach team, local police and fire stations for visits and looking at all sporting/AT related places locally already but this will be for the whole sqn, not just the 30 mixed cadets.

Any suggestions on what to do for a small staff team who aren’t specialised in anything specific, with a tiny amount of space for the numbers we have would really be appreciated! (Please only suggest things for parade nights, not weekends)

PS… Sorry for the rant but I’ve lost the will to live over this and searched on all topics on this forum for weeks and can’t find anything that I know would work for us.


This might sound odd, but it sounds as though you have far too many cadets for you to handle.

Even from the most basic safety aspect, if you have only 2 staff in on a night then That’s a ration of 1:30… If one staff has to go home for whatever reason it becomes 1:60.

I Strongly recommend you focus only on staff recruitment and training and get that sorted first.

I have a dozen or so staff and 40 ish cadets and I still feel the pinch.

Your situation is bonkers verging on unsafe.


Just because Bronze and above levels of the PTS are to be done at sector level or higher doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching some of the theory at sqn level. The bronze leadership lessons are on SharePoint and can be used to get cdts thinking about the next step.

Your NCOs can be used more. Why not have one of these teach the probationers during the early stages of their first class?

They can also be given a half a parade night once a fortnight for flight activities. It breaks up the weeks and if they’re not that enjoyable then it’s on the cdts to improve.

Believe me, it’s not odd. We as staff all agree we have too many. But our OC Wg wont let us pause recruitment.

We argue that we have been sending new recruits to other local sqns until we sort the problem, but he was not happy about this and wants us to take on more.

I think it all goes back to the issue of the staff recruitment process and how long and tedious it can be. We have had many potential staff with no military or cadet background join, but as you can appreciate trying to train them up to a level where they are useful on a teaching level takes time. Time that a lot of people aren’t willing to do. When you get staff with some sort of background related to the ACO it does make things so much easier.

We will try and up the staff recruitment, the only problem is one member of staff is planning on leaving at the end of this year, maybe earlier… so we need to replace them too :sob::sob::sob:

I guess we could look at the bronze levels, only thing is… I don’t want to sit them down and spend 2.5 hours on something they will have to do all over again, if you see what I mean? And I know my CO won’t really like that either…

As staff we are getting together tonight to see what we can come up with, but in all honestly I don’t see any light at the end of this tunnel.

Are other local Squadrons in the sameboat as you, could thy help. Get your sector officer down to help.

So don’t tell him.

Next time you have an intake, limit the numbers, don’t send out leaflets, etc.

In the grand scheme of things he’d rather have a sqn than have it fold when staff give up.

Obviously it sounds like you’ve tried lots of stuff already, so some of this may or may not work - and some of it might sound like sucking eggs, but here we go. Some of it will also be blunt, I can’t help that - it’s just the way it is.

Hopefully there will be a few useful threads in this you can explore/exploit… shout if you want me to expand on any…

Critical Mass
To me, it sounds like you’ve exceeded your natural capacity and critical mass! Sqn’s go in ups and downs numbers wise all the time. There are natural peaks and troughs throughout the year and in 3/5 year intervals. It all depends on a number of factors. It sounds like you’re at a cadet numbers peak - but a staffing low. Compound that with your building capacity and things look bleak!

I’m a firm believer that all squadrons have an optimum headcount - the critical mass - this is normally a natural balance point given staffing/cadets/building/resources. Whilst RAFAC want the Corps to grow to a random number of the next X years, the fact is that some squadrons will never be able to manage that because of these limitations. So ignore any pressures that come from on high about recruitment - the simple fact is this, as your squadron currently stands, unless you can develop an engaging, relevant and inspiring training program, these cadets are going to have a shorter than normal cadet life expectancy. Worry not if this happens - it’s not your fault, this is what often happens when “peaks” in cadet numbers come before capacity elsewhere!

Where sqn resource capacity is outstripped by cadet numbers, cadets will find their access to parade night stuff, weekend events and a whole host of other things limited - purely by the fact they are a small fish in a bigger pond. Even simple things like differentiation in a classroom/learning environment means that their needs for learning may not be met by a CFAV who’s done a 2 day MOI course, but doesn’t have access to ongoing CPD and is teaching an unfamiliar subject.

As TO you have as much of a responsibility to staff development as cadet development. Check in with your staff and see if there’s areas they DO want to specialise in. It’s not going to fix the squadron in the next 4-6 months, but it’ll stop this happening again in the future.

Also – and you’ve probably already done so – speak to the Boss, let them know you’re struggling and make staffing their priority for the next 3-6 months. Get them to do some leg work around it. Ensure they are raising it with the CivCom and get them onboard with supporting the squadron’s efforts to recruit staff – particularly as it might need some cash to advertise/recruit. Build that Sqn Alumni and tap into ex-cadet network via Facebook. It could help build your staff numbers and reduce the pressure on you/existing staff.

Recruitment pause
With 20 cadets in your recruit flight, I’m guessing you’ve had a big intake! Well done! Now pause recruitment!!! Setup a waiting list - if you try and recruit in the next 3 months your problems will spiral exponentially! Running a waiting list is no bad thing. Yes, SOME potential recruits will walk and not come back - but there’s also evidence that waiting lists develop a false demand! Also, you need time to address the issues you’ve already got. And a waiting list will definitely help! I’m guessing once we get lighter evenings, things will be easier and you’ll have access to some outside space? Brilliant. Recruit then - but not before!

Your “30 mixed cadets”
I wouldn’t focus too much on your 30 mixed cadets – several times you mentioned that it’s this group you want to focus on. Don’t. Include your NCOs and senior cadets with the whole cohort unless there’s something very specific you want them to focus on. Isolating them as a separate group is increasing your workload and decreasing your resource. It’ll also give your group of 30 some mentoring and support – people to look up to and work alongside. They’ll learn a lot from just being around them – rather than being isolated from them.

You can still offer your “Top 10” something – there will be evenings when they naturally gravitate towards something else – but for now, and to help with the hole you’re in, I’d focus on the many, not the few.

Flight system
There are ways and means to help address the “Squadron is too big” and “I don’t feel loved” thing (which often happens when operating above critical mass). And the quick fix is to build a really strong flight system. It might need some investment in Flight Commanders and some leadership from you to develop the system - but it’s well worth doing. (I appreciate, you may already have this - and it might be really strong - but could it be strengthened further?).

Could your two smaller classrooms be turned into “flight rooms” - giving them some ownership of them? Could you trust your Flight Commanders to run their own sessions in these rooms with minimum staff oversight? It could be a Bull night dedicated to improving uniform scores/inspections. It could be a round robin of small activities run by JNCOs to help work on certain aspects of leadership/teamwork etc. Set them the task of finding an engaging activity which they could run for 1 evening per month to address the needs of their Flight.

This could also be used and developed to run dedicated inter flight competitions – ideally run and delivered by your Senior NCO – but could equally be run by a member of Wg staff or a neighbouring sqn staff member for a night. Examples could be Sports, AT, Fieldcraft Skills, Observation exercises, Drill, Field Cooking, leadership tasks, anything which could be tweaked to offer an element of measurement or competition could be a goer for this. Again, another night a month has been taken up – with very little staff input.

Ensure your “10 senior cadets” are also involved. Get them to mentor and support the JNCOs/SNCOs and start nurturing their leadership skills and qualities as well. 2 x solid flights (with sub-flights if you so desire) of 20 cadets could really enhance a squadron - and help take some pressure off you - as long as you’ve got solid flight commanders.

Classification training
Sounds like your recruit training is sorted. Is it run by a staff member of SNCO? Ours historically is run by a Cadet SNCO - instructors dip in and out as required for specialist areas, but broadly speaking, we trust our NCOs to do a good job – and the product at the end of training suggests it’s working OK. This could potentially free up a staff member for a few nights per month.

Obviously I don’t know the structure of your NCO team – but how many MOI/QAIC cadets have you got? Can you utilise them to deliver training?

Regarding your classification training you should only need 3 classrooms anyway. Junior Cadets/First Class, Leading, then Senior/Master can be combined and deliver the same subjects to both on an annual rotation with 3 subjects per year. If you can harmonise the training so all working across the same six subjects, you’ll find your life easier and should stop everybody scatter gunning across lots of different subjects.

The downside of the current classification training is that you often need specialist to deliver and I’d say half of the subject aren’t “out of the box” – but some are! The Military Aircraft Systems stuff has been brilliantly rewritten and can be delivered well by somebody with little knowledge.

Alternatively, harass your Wg Training Team or Sector Commander for some support. They might be able to lend you a staff member for a month to deliver a specific subject for your cadets to help them through. Tapping up outside sources for this could really help you out.

Project training
You don’t need a series of specialist to do this – you just need a few people with a passing interest. We rebranded ours “Trade Training” a few years ago, and it really helped the cadets get away from the “projects” legacy, and made it feel a bit more formal (it was when the CAC got in a rant about Projects being all about gardening and model making).

Utilise your “top 10” for this. Take them aside and get them to work up 5 viable trade training subjects which they themselves (individually or in pairs) could run and deliver to 4-10 cadets each. It doesn’t have to be staff lead. As you’ve already identified with band, they already have skills “outside” of cadets which they can bring to the table. I’ve seen cadets studying A level media who’ve delivered a reasonable social media course, others who do graphic design run an excellent trade training course developing posters for the rest of the squadron, refreshing training posters, door signs and loads of additional stuff for the squadron. A few years back we had some geeky cadets fiddling with Raspberry Pis. Quite a few options available which might not need 100% staff commitment. Oversight, yes, undoubtedly, but not necessarily 100% delivery.

Adhoc nights
Public Speaking
You could also look at long term competitions over a few nights. For example, we run a public speaking competition. We run a “public speaking lesson” to give them all the skills and insight into how to do it – as well as tips on how to deal with nerves. They sign up to give a 10minute lecture on a subject of their choice 1 month in advance of the start of the competition. They then have a month to sort it out. Staff and NCOs mark their efforts and run a debrief afterwards to try and outline strengths and areas for development, the idea being that cadets will take away a valuable skill from the activity. We then have an annual award for public speaking at our awards evening – but this could equally be done as a flight activity.

With the number of cadets you have, I’d look at running this as a flight based activity. So they are only speaking to a smaller number of cadets (it can be quite intimidating), but also you’ll be able to get through them all a bit quicker (if you wanted).

Similar activities can be done around debating or Role/rank swaps.

Visiting lecturers
You’ve named a few areas you’re looking at – so here’s some others to consider…

Links with local Armed Forces Charities. RBL, RAFA, SSAFA, Blesma, Combat Stress, Blind Veterans UK – there are LOTS of options available, some of which may be willing to attend for the evening as an guest presenter and do an engaging activity with the cadets.

How are your relationships with your local SCC or ACF? Could they spare an instructor to run an evening to run an intro into what they do? Or support a specific activity? The SCC love their semaphore and knots. The ACF are generally great at delivering FC stuff – and over and above even our new “inhouse” stuff. Even bringing in a set of webbing and delivering that lesson could be useful!

Likewise, have you tapped up your local Councillor? Neighbourhood Watch? Police Crime Commissioner? High Sherriff? Sports Trust? Cotswolds/Go Outdoors? All could visit to deliver a session – and offer some “community engagement”.

Have you a local aerospace group/astronomy group/history group/mountaineering club? Any of the above could be tapped up as an additional support source. Often fostering these sorts of links can be beneficial to both parties. We had a great rapport with our local Aeromodelling Club for a few years (until a change in personnel at their end!) – whereby we supported their model show in exchange for some support in running a few aeromodelling sessions with our cadets. We had a similar arrangement with a BMFA club who came along with a shed load of RC aircraft and did a really engaging demo – then invited us to a few sessions so the cadets could experience what Model Flying was like.

We’re currently working with your local RBL and will be visiting their centre for a parade evening a month. They are putting on talks and competitions for us. Could yours do something similar?

Ask around your ex-cadet network. Are any of them currently serving in the Armed Forces? Or have interesting jobs they like to talk about? Get them in for a night.

Sector/Wg support
How much sector support are you getting? I’ve already said above about reaching out to your neighbouring squadrons. But how viable is this? Do you already have relationships with them – is it something you could foster/nurture for the future? If so, is there something you could offer them in return? Nobody wants to parade 3 or 4 nights per week – but for the same of doing it 1 week a month, could your squadron benefit from a reciprocal arrangement?

Are you Wg AT team willing to visit you and run an evening to outline all the different AT activities they could do in the ATC? Or even the recent changes within MLT, BC, RYA and British Cycling? What about your Wg Shooting team? Wg First Aid Team? Wg Radio Comms team? Are there any JLs, QAICs, IACE in your Wg that could run an evening to let the cadets know about those opportunities – broadly speaking, they all love to talk at length about those things!

When did your WWO last visit – ask them to come and do a parade night on their role, responsibilities and conduct a drill audit – then debrief your NCOs accordingly with an action plan and ask them to revisit in 2 months time for a progress check. WWOs love this as it makes them feel valued and important and like somebody is actually actively seeking advice and guidance (haha!)

Cadets often don’t know what is available unless it’s explicitly sold to them – ideally by passionate specialists – and stuff like this can easily occupy them for a night! The real benefit of this is that it gives cadets something to work towards – it could see the cadets accessing more week run courses and give them the bug – aiding in retention and their long term development.

Do you have a Wg Training Team? Could they offer you support – either as a cluster of squadrons or your squadron alone? They often have loads of experience in this stuff and might have ideas specific to your local area you could utilise. They may also be able to offer your mentoring/ongoing support if you wanted.

One area I’ve considered (although not yet tried!) is dabbling with standdowns for certain levels/classifications/areas. The idea came from a recent conversation with a Outreach team from the Army Reserve who’ll only attend if we can guarantee a certain number of 16+ aged cadets on a particular night. We alone couldn’t do this. So we’d need to draw in cadets from neighbouring squadrons – but we couldn’t do this AND support a concurrent activity for the other cadets. So, I was wondering about standing down the under 16 cadets for an evening – shipping in 16+ cadets from neighbouring squadrons and getting the Army Reserve to run the evening for us.

In a similar vein, our IMechE branch hold brilliant workshops which are free to attend. But you need to be 16+. We can’t necessarily spare a staff member for it. But a neighbouring squadron with a minibus might be able to swing by and pickup your cadets to attend. Even if it’s not on your parade night, it still could be of interest and see the cadets continuing to reengage. They could then deliver a session on what they learned, network, or maybe even talk the presenter into delivering the session at your own squadron!

Spending money
Because of the hole you are in, it could be worth floating out to your CivCom the option to buy in some activities. A night at a climbing wall will cost around £15 per head including an instructor for the night. Your Wg AT Team may be able to hook you up with an inhouse instructor to reduce this cost. Costs could be met – in part – by CivCom, or by the cadets themselves. It’ll depend on how flush with cash your cadets are – and how generous your CivCom feel.

Swimming and working towards Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Swimming proficiencies (£3 per head?). Booking a school gym or sports hall for either Sqn or Flight sports for an evening could be a useful activity. I think it was £40 or £50 for an evening last time I looked into it. This gives you the flexibility of NOT being on Sqn for a night, avoiding all the space problems – but still keeping the cadets engaged.

Could you do a bowling evening? A night at a Trampoline Park? Squadron social somewhere? Even a film night where you show them Reach for the Skies or Dambusters. It won’t please everybody – but not many cadets watch this stuff. Hell, we discovered at our last fundraiser that very few of our cadets had ever watched Blackadder (triggered by them simply not getting any of the staff jokes!) so we genuinely watched 3 episodes of Blackadder Goes Fourth one parade night (which also gave the staff a night off!).

Hopefully there’s something in there to give you an insight into how I’d tackle the hole – but something you’ve not tried!

Best of luck!


Your OC Wing needs to get his head out of his hoop. Their attitude is going to lead to staff burnout and further extend their staffing woes.

You MUST pause recruitment. If you deliver a poor product to lots of cadets you’ll get a bad reputation, a high cadet turn over and will forever find yourself in a perpetual loop of junior cadet and first class training - with very little progression to the “good stuff” that comes with being a more senior cadet. Instead, invest in a smaller number of cadets and deliver a higher quality product.

You need to - as others have said whilst I was typing my rather lengthly reply - focus on your staffing in order to properly address your cadet training problems. Only by building your capability and capacity there, will your cadet issues start to become resolved.

But forcing a surge in cadet numbers without the associated capacity to support them, is going to do them a disservice and give you squadron a bad reputation. Then cadet recruitment will also be an issue for you!!!


Happy to share my resources with you.

There are plenty of more involved exercises and some additional lessons that should fill up a fair amount of time.

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I would agree with Batfink,

I would suggest sending an email to all you sector, wing staff and wing specialists and ask for any staff assistance. It could be a couple of NCOs willing to come along to teach some drill and get maybe a wee sqn comp going with the cadets to maybe the DofE officer maybe start doing Pre-DofE with them. Our old WSO used to love coming down and doing some FA with our cadets and just having some fun.

it doesn’t have to be every night just when they can and they are willing slip some of these activities into the program

Any resources would really help MattB! Thank you :slight_smile:

Thanks Batfink, you’ve given me so much to work on and get my head around! I’m sure I can look into a lot of this :slight_smile:

Yeah, I feel that we are all pretty burnt out. I think there is a little bit in all of us that want to leave because its just not fun anymore to be stretched this much all the time… but all don’t want to leave until we have more staff and know that this is all sorted. At the end of the day, its the cadets that will be negatively affected if we all left with nothing sorted and we would never want this to happen.

I think you need to really put pressure on your sector officer for help.
A thread has started about staff recruitment maybe some ideas from there can help.

You need to take care of yourself and the staff, I know its hard but the corps doesn’t give 2 hoots about you and if you end up off work sick then it can start some problems at home too. its very easy to be blinkered into “what about the cadets” syndrome but you need to remember to look after yourself!!

people on here will give help an advice but you need to seek local help too.


@Batfink’s comment regarding cadet numbers in a restricted environment is the key here., An ordinary hut has a comfortable capacity of around 35 cadets any more and it feels crowded.
Possibly the only option is to parade half one night and half another.

Thank you all for your help! You’ve given me lots to work with :slight_smile:

@batfink I just wanted to give a massive thank you for that long message. It’s really helpful (especially at the beginning of the year!) to see something like that that outlines how to deal with an overburden of cadets and a lack of staff. Thank you for your continuous support on the forum


The other thing is a building will have a capacity limit for fire regulations.

Our hut (10m x 18m) which is nearly 15 years old, apparently has a fire rating for 100 people, which if I recall from a office redesign project I was involved in people need a space 1.5m x 1.5m, so allowing for walls and door openings and toilets. When we have open evenings we get to 45-55 with staff, cadets and prospective cadets and their parents and it is very uncomfortable.
I don’t think HQAC give a monkey’s about fire ratings actually being realistic, as this would limit squadron size and they are into numbers and this will continue until something drastic happens.

But then as the OP is finding, it’s difficult with higher numbers given the diverse “learning” we are expected to do in restricted spaces.

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