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Roland Martin - Issue #59

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Making national citizens
 

Roland Martin

September 6 · Issue #59 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Making national citizens

National Citizen Service - the inception
Abbreviated as NCS, if you don’t already know, the scheme was set up by David Cameron’s former director of strategy, Steve Hilton. As Prime Minister, Cameron championed it as part of his desire to create a ‘Big Society’. Launched in 2010, the 2011 riots meant that he pushed to expand the scheme more quickly than planned, hoping to solve 'deep problems’ in society.
Party politics aside, this venture was put in place to foster a sense of community within young people, to give them a sense of their place within their local area and pride in what they could do to engage and be a force for good.
It was on my radar as a school leader, I had known a handful of our students take part in previous years, but it was as a parent that I got to see it turned inside out this summer. Our sixteen year old son asked to enroll, having heard about it from NCS’s in-school marketing and consequently having spent time researching it himself.
What does it look like?
It’s a four week programme. It costs those attending £50. It’s worth a great deal more.
There’s a run-in period whereby parents/carers/attendees are emailed and ‘phoned in the month/weeks before the experience fully kicks in. The course leaders host an information evening per group to assuage any anxieties families may have.
Week 1: An outward bounds type residential. The one we witnessed took 50 young people, aged 16-17, away to a PGL centre near Swindon. Along with an 18K walk and caring for balloon babies, much team building takes place here as the 50 is divided down into smaller cohorts.
Week 2: University living. Again, from personal experience, this group was based at the Guildford campus at the University of Surrey in student halls. They began to engage with community groups and charities, in a range of roles, visiting care homes, tending to gardens, performing, photographing and marketing. Barclays gave them some tips on CVs and interview skills which we were told gave better advice than the Careers event at his school! Meanwhile, they lived to a budget, cooking meals, doing the dishes etc. Great preparation for life beyond school…
Week 3: School/town based, commuting from home. The Mole Valley troop was based in Dorking. Here, they met different industry professionals who worked with them on presentation skills, financial knowledge and fundraising techniques. They had to 'pitch’ to local businesses for sponsorship - all very 'Dragons’ Den’… They were assigned a charity with a local base - The Rainbow Trust was quickly on our radar at home - for whom they were to raise funds and awareness.
Week 4: Charity week. Fundraising and awareness raising. From bag-packing in Epsom M&S to dance marathons in Dorking town centre, groups raised funds and hopefully awareness of their assigned charities. Lots of face to face contact with local shoppers, all while being carefully but gently shepherded by the NCS volunteers and senior mentors.
A few weeks’ later … an NCS graduation ceremony, coming up this weekend. Of which their website says: 'At the end of your NCS experience, you’re now part of the bigger NCS family. This is only just the beginning! You’ll get exclusive access to potential volunteering opportunities and apprenticeships as well as big events! Once an NCSer, always an NCSer.’
Further down the line … opportunities to be NCS ambassadors, volunteers or mentors.
Why do it?
More to the point, if you’re 16/17 why wouldn’t you?
We’ve become inordinately evangelical about NCS to anyone who will listen, having been parents to an NCS-er this summer. We tangibly feel how much benefit it has been to our son to be engaged with a variety of young people from impressively diverse backgrounds, making new allegiances locally, being listened to by adults, making an impact with meaningful projects. In short, it has been transformative. 
The summer after GCSE is long and potentially tortuous. Four weeks of NCS activity breaks that up in a relevant, useful, propitious way. With increased care and red tape in employment law, young people can find it tricky to secure the holiday jobs we might have had at their age, so this opportunity plugs that gap, keeps them busy and equips them with all manner of skills, both soft and tough.
Course leaders certainly inspired respect from the young people in their care, if our own charge was anything to go by. Cooler than their school teachers, more responsible than their peers, less annoying than parents, the savvy older brother/sister/cousin kind of set up certainly seemed to work. Watching a group showcase at the end of week 2, the relationships within peer groups and mentors were wholly positive. We think the most prescient skill that our son learned was how to compromise - not always something that an opinionated sixteen year old boy finds easy!
I hope to be engaging with NCS further in role as Headmaster at Freemen’s; we have a few young people each year who participate, but many more who don’t seem to know about it. Hopefully one of their ambassadors will come in and talk to us in an assembly, and rest assured, I shall be advocating for it for a while to come yet … 
How to get involved
If you’d like to learn more, or shove the details under the nose of a year 11/12 student in your care, here’s a link:
National Citizen Service
Footnotes
CEO of NCS, Michael Lynas, wrote for both The Independent and The Guardian towards the end of this summer, highlighting the facts and figures and significant impact that NCS has had since its inception:
At the National Citizen Service we help teenagers build a better future | Letters | Society | The Guardian
Mrs May went on record in The Sun, celebrating the NCS’s work in mental health. (It may well be the first time I’ve linked to that particular newspaper on here!):
Theresa May unveils plans to tackle teen mental health as thousands open A-level results today
Former Education Minister Lord Blunkett - was also recently featured writing about the benefits of the scheme, and why he’s proud to be a board member, in The New Statesman:
Empowering young people with vital life skills
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