When the Prime Minister made his ‘major announcement’ on 11 January that the Government would provide over £1b for the National Citizen Service programme he implied it was new money. However, the £1b was already contained in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. It wasn’t new money after all but a re-announcement of money already allocated.
The NCS runs three four-week programmes annually in spring, summer and autumn. Evaluation of NCS summer and autumn programmes* in 2013 found the scheme’s greatest impact for participants was on ‘teamwork, communication and leadership’. Participants also reported they were more able to face challenges. However, impacts on education, employment and training, including increasing awareness of a range of career prospects, did not persist long after initial follow-up.
The evaluation found that one year after completing the autumn programme there had been a positive impact on participants meeting socially people from a different religious background. But neither the summer nor autumn programmes had a sustained impact on positive attitudes towards mixing with people from a variety of different backgrounds, evaluation revealed.
The Cabinet Office Annual Report 2014/15 said the minimum number of 60,000 filled places on NCS had not been met. 57,609 took part in 2014. The overall goal was to recruit 80,000 participants. This ambitious target was missed but it didn't stop Chancellor George Osborne from telling Parliament in his Autumn Statement that 80,000 'go on National Citizen Service'.
One well-established, high-quality programme is the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (DofE) which expects a much longer commitment than NCS. The DofE, due to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in 2016, seems to have no difficulty in recruiting young people from the age of 14. The number of participants has increased.
The PM says he ‘expects’ schools to give pupils the opportunity to participate with NCS and link their work with the National Curriculum (forgetting for a moment that academies and free schools can opt out). But it would be a pity if this expectation were to have a negative impact on DofE. Will schools already involved with DofE be expected to promote NCS as well?
That said, NCS offers a shorter programme than DofE which might suit young people who are unwilling or unable to commit to a longer programme. The PM wants 60% of 16 year-olds to be involved in NCS by 2021. But his Cabinet Office report said there was a challenge to increase participation by 50% a year without impacting negatively on programme’s quality and benefit to those who took part. Quality should not be sacrificed for quantity.
STOP PRESS: As part of their Diamond Jubilee celebrations, DofE is inviting anyone to rise to the DofE Challenge. See here for details.
*There were too few participants in the spring programme 2013 for the evaluation to consider its impact.