NCS: Teaching the next generation some skills

Born from David Cameron’s strong statement in his 2010 manifesto: “there is a tragic waste of potential that shames the
nation”, NCS was introduced.

As part of the cabinet’s ‘Big Society’ project to bring together communities, National Citizen Service, was established under the Coalition government in 2010 to inspire 15-17 year olds to challenge themselves by taking on out of the ordinary activities and learn some new skills in the process.

Cameron set out in his manifesto to create a “programme which encourages young people and gives them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.” The ethos is set out with six main objectives aimed to encourage teamwork, communication, and independence in a social and challenging environment; and “above all, is going to help a generation of young people appreciate what they achieve, for themselves, and by themselves.”

NCS inspires young people to challenge themselves both physically and mentally through a variety of outdoor activities such as expeditions, wild camping, kayaking, and high rope activities. It allows them to increase their responsibility and independence through tasks such as budgeting, planning and organising, and cooking for a whole team; in addition to mixing with other team members, and socialising with new people in a new environment.

One of the main parts of NCS is to give something back to the community. Participants must undertake a social action project which encourages community engagement through volunteering, raising awareness or fundraising; all while reflecting on the experience to take their new honed skills into their future.

During the planning phase for the programme, Cameron anticipated something like National Service but without the military regime (hence the name), as “too many young people seem lost. Their lives lack shape or any kind of direction, so they take their frustrations out on the world around them.” But what the government did not anticipate while creating the programme is that the young people who take part are in fact already incredibly talented and intelligent people.

Young people get a lot of bad press, stereo-typically for being lazy, unenthusiastic and wasting opportunities offered to them. This stereotype continues into their early twenties as students. However, it is the young people of this country who are passionate and idealistic, they are talented and skilled, and NCS allows them to unlock their potential and enable them to demonstrate those skills, as well as learn new ones in the process.

The programme is truly remarkable to see the difference in participants from the beginning to the end, and to see them persevere with challenges no matter how big or small they may be. Participants are from all kinds of backgrounds regardless of medical issues and disabilities, poor or affluent, as well as different ethnic minorities. It challenges everyone in a different way; whether it is reaching the summit of a mountain on the expedition and wild camping in a remote place, conquering a fear of water, or even staying away from home for the first time. One of the main parts of NCS is social mixing which is about coming together as a team. Beginning on day one with a group of 11 other strangers, undertake physical outdoor challenges together, cook together, eat together, live together and by the end of three weeks, be carrying out a community project together.

Government funding for the programme is mandatory to “sow the seeds of the Big Society, and see them thrive in years to come” according to Cameron. The Big Society project has been welcomed across parties in the government, and by youth organisations to have a secure investment into the future of society. NCS is starting to take shape to transform a generation into the new society, with hope of setting the bar for engagement with teenagers and young people for generations to come.

However, with every government led scheme comes a host of problems.

In 2016, 93,000 people around the country took part which is an encouraging amount of people who have graduated with employability and life skills. The growth rate is a steady a 23 percent, with the aim of 360,000 participants by 2021 – which is a staggering number of young people to get through a programme each year.

This means the current larger waves of 72 people, broken down into teams of 12 with one member of staff will become teams of 20-30 people with hundreds of participants in any one place at a time.

But as teachers know very well, for every self-sufficient young person, is one who needs some extra support, and when the participant rate is growing so quickly, there are only so many 16 year olds one member of staff can handle for 24 hours a day before problems start arising. One of those problems is spreading their time to thinly across each member of the group, and the people who need the most support slip through the net.

The government has invested £1.26 billion of funding from 2016-2021, however, there is also a target to reduce the cost per person by 29 percent to meet these funding requirements.

In my experience of working on NCS as a team leader, it is a very intense yet rewarding job. The intensity comes from two weeks of residentials in which one takes part in most of the activities to ensure each person fulfils the ethos, in addition to the responsibility for the pastoral care of each person. If the group was any bigger than 12, this role would be extremely difficult to manage, not to mention the social dynamic within the group would alter as groups tend to divide with more people.


At the end of the programme, I left with the desire to become a youth worker and be able to work with young people 1:1, as for some people there was so much more potential they could tap into with NCS just being the start of their future – with some extra support this could be achieved for certain people. I was not the only member of staff who felt this way at the end of the programme, and it felt almost like a waste of skills and resources for a young person to be so close to reaching their potential when the programme ends. Just like the feeling of having worked hard to master a particular skill, yet not knowing what to do with it afterwards.

The job satisfaction comes through the presentations towards the end of the programme to see these young people socialising with their new friends, discussing the things they achieved, and presenting their experience to the other NCS participants.

For most members of staff, it brings a tear to their eye to see the impact they have made on 12 young lives through the NCS programme. To see the instant development these young people have made: from starting the programme shy and reserved, and leaving joyful, taking away new skills and the confidence to be able to interact with people they meet for the first time in the future.

However, there isn’t the facility to work with these young people afterwards, unless one happens to be a youth worker in their school, sixth form or college. And, for some of these youngsters, they slip through the net and don’t receive the guidance they need. Which brings me to my conclusion that the government’s targets of having 360,000 participants per year by 2021 is an impractical and overstretched aim. Shepherding as many people to get through the programme as possible is the goal, but there are more favourable ways of doing so without compromising on the quality of the programme and the time spent between staff and young people.

Unfortunately, government schemes are a numbers game and more funding allocation includes the aim of more participants. However, as it is the case on many occasions, quality of over quantity should be considered, particularly on the basis on the education and success of the next generation.

In the same way that university degrees have become the norm, the idea is the skills and personal development learned on NCS should be the standard for generations to come. We should be teaching our youth to be confident, to be able to socially interact with one another, to be able to give something back to the local community, and to be independent and take responsibility for their own lives.

We want to set our standard for British youth to be high achievers which is a bold vision to have for the future, but one which is achievable through the right means and one which we should have already had in place.

However, the target of 360,000 participants by 2021 in this standard can be dangerous if not managed in the right way. Firstly, it not only sets the bar, but raises it in making it more difficult to stand out, and difficult for people to succeed through the programme with so many people taking part.

Secondly, to reach over 300,000 people by 2021 there needs to be a 40 percent increase in numbers. Currently, not every place on the course is being filled – of the 93,000 who took part last year, there were 124,000 places available. Although, there is a steady drop-out rate before the course has started, which is a disappointing waste of money.

And finally, for those numbers to be achieved, there still needs to be a 23 percent reduction in programme costs bringing the average number down to £1,319 per person. There needs to be a significant increase in staff to be able to coordinate such a programme, and more opportunities to secure the future for those few who fall through the net, and never quite reach their potential.

After implementation, our youth may not appear so “lost” as if their “lives lack shape or any sense of direction” according to Cameron, but he has hope:

“The young of this country are as passionate and idealistic as any generation before. Perhaps more passionate. They march against poverty, they set up online campaigns, they push their parents to recycle and they care deeply about climate change.”

I have been lucky enough to work with some young people who are inspired and motivated to do good in the world and take every opportunity given. After my time as an NCS team leader, I celebrate the achievement, and have high aspirations for the successes of these young people to come, and the standard they set for the next generation.


Travelling, there is a world outside of your box

14355010_10210122666240354_4246429569703938970_nThere has been a long list of countries to visit and visit again on my bucket list. After graduation I had a hierarchy of things I wanted to achieve within the next five years. In no particular order these are: go travelling, study for a masters, buy a house, and get a good job on the career ladder. Four simple goals to work towards, but my problem was I didn’t know which order to put them in.

At university it seemed the logical thing to go straight into a masters, but I was tired of 17 years of non-stop education from primary school to university. I needed a break and to get some money behind me. I went full time at work to earn a living and start paying the bills which suddenly appear when you graduate. I thought about travelling post-university but it seemed cliche, and I didn’t want to spend my life savings on what is essentially a long holiday and come back without a job, a home and a penny to scratch my arse with.

So I started looking for my own place. I had a full-time job, a degree and I started applying for jobs in my industry at the same time. A couple of months went by, no houses were particularly interesting, and I kept getting rejected for jobs. Perhaps my ambitions were too high I thought.

Meanwhile my year started off bad, and it was getting worse. From being stressed and overworked to being physically injured I needed some down time so I went on holiday. A week away in the sun to relax, train, reflect on what a terrible year it was turning out to be (and only six months into it) and generally escape from life at home– Gran Canaria was paradise.

I came home and returned to the mundane work-life balance. I was injured which meant I couldn’t train and all races for the rest of the year were cancelled as I went through the rehab process, so I had nothing to aim towards, and nothing to focus on.

It didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere with the job or the house hunt, and one Monday morning I said to myself while stuck in traffic and late for work, there must be more to life than this boring little box of going to work, going to the gym, and going home.

Later on that day, I printed off the “time away from work” policy and went to see my manager.

One other thing which dawned on me on why I am going travelling is the trail of baloney that is going on with Brexit, the US presidential election, the British pound being most effective yoyo, Scotland’s pathetic second fight for independence, and the extremely bewildering war between Russia and the rest of the world.

In the western world, wealth and power are the two most important things amongst governments and the power elite. Normal people work to pay bills and taxes, which get spent on some things we don’t all agree with, decided by MP’s who buy a duck house and gold toilet seat and expense it through the tax payers as if their £74,962 salary can’t quite cover those ridiculous items, and who have their fingers in all sorts of corrupt pies. A Prime Minister nobody seemed to vote for in a by-election (who even voted for Theresa May?) and non-elected lords whom nobody knows how they got into the House of Lords in the first place.

There is so much more going on in the world, and before I get caught up in paying a mortgage, council tax, bills, my student loan, get trapped into the ugly thirst for a healthy income, and read one more story how ‘remain’ voters are creating a conspiracy to overturn Brexit, or how the certain Lords in parliament have had some dodgy engagements with EU dealings, I wanted to take a step back from the western world and see what the rest of the world has to offer (before Trump sets of a nuclear bomb and destroys it). Because something tells me that while visiting rice fields in Vietnam, and Baobab trees in Madagascar, these things aren’t important to the people who live out there.

I had no idea where I was going to get the money from to go travelling, but it was raised to the top of the list in my four goals in five years and seemed like the most spontaneous thing to do, so I started planning.

Four months away, eight countries, three long haul flights and one rucksack. The earliest I could leave was mid-December, so I decided to go straight after Christmas.

I bought a huge map of the world and pinned it to my bedroom wall, as I moved in with my parents temporarily at the beginning of the year to get back on my feet, I hid it from them until I had a plan, I didn’t want anyone else’s dreams or ideas to interfere with mine.

Route planning was the hardest but the most fun of all. I threw a pin in every place in the world I wanted to visit, and plotted it with a piece of string to find the best route; looked for corresponding flights around the dates I wanted, had to trim off a couple of places because it was either too far out of the way or over budget and I went from there. I bought guide books and travel insurance, had my vaccinations and then told everyone what I was doing. Now all I have to do is wait for December 27 to come around and I’m off; leaving this dull bubble of work, train, eat, socialise, sleep, repeat behind–for a while at least.

There is even time and a budget to turn up at a major European airport and buy a ticket for which ever place my finger lands on first.

Labour’s tuition fee plan could work

*Based on The Guardian’s story on tuition fees this morning: Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees is populist and pointless, says Vince Cable

Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees would work if implemented properly.

Continue reading “Labour’s tuition fee plan could work”

Downgrading arts and humanities isn’t the key to education

Nicky Morgan, education secretary
Nicky Morgan, education secretary

Last night, education Secretary Nicky Morgan said that teenagers should avoid arts and humanities when making subject choices in schools.

Previously students choose science and maths based subjects to follow a specific career path such as medicine, engineering and science professions, but Ms Morgan said that now it “couldn’t be further from the truth”. It’s seen that students choose the arts and humanities with subjects such as English literature, design, textiles, religious education and history, as topics that may keep their options open to different careers.

Ms Morgan says the key to “[keeping] young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths),”

Ms Morgan wants to encourage young people avoid arts and humanities otherwise known as “soft” subjects because they don’t have as good job prospects.

Christine Blower, from the National Union of Teachers, said: “Downgrading the arts is the wrong message.”

The vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London, Nigel Carrington, said: “this absurd discrimination between ‘hard’ STEM and ‘soft’ arts subjects will damage the next generation of entrepreneurs. The Government needs to recognise that creativity is vital to the economy and should be taught.”

If students choose to only study STEM subjects, their prospects are only in science and technology based jobs, therefore their future doesn’t lie in any other career path.

Ms Morgan’s point is that students may be harming their future if they don’t choose the right subjects. But surely to allow the student to make the choice is the most important thing. Bridges can be built later in life when they have decided their career path. Mature students at university and adult colleges, are in place to allow this to happen.

It didn’t stop Louise Minchin who studied a degree in Spanish and is now a journalist and news presenter.

David Cameron studied history of art, history, politics and economics at A level. (Source: The Independent)

Gordon Brown studied a degree in history, and prior to becoming Prime Minister worked as a TV journalist. (Source: BBC)

Students should be encouraged to pursue the subjects they have an interest and excel in. Not all students are academic, and therefore don’t have an interest in STEM subjects and will find a career in an alternative subject.

As an employer of an engineering firm, you have two candidates both with the same qualifications and experience, but one has a skill, and an interest in something other than engineering, perhaps can play an instrument, or is creative and competent in product design…

Which one would you choose?

Not only that, but beyond education, intelligence doesn’t lie with good exam results. Non-academic people have valuable skills needed in industries which this country wouldn’t survive without. Having terrible exam results doesn’t mean people are unintelligent. Intelligence applied, coupled with skills and creativity conceives a good environment, and a balanced society.

For example in the profession of journalism, both English language and literature is a humanity and an art subject, without these there would be no journalists, nor people who could write, or construct a sentence.

What about the professionals in beauty and hairdressing? Granted they perhaps need some knowledge of chemicals, but an A level in maths, technology or engineering need not apply.

What about in the design sector? When a surgeon, somebody who has studied science, and medicine for a number of years, decides to buy a painting, or refurbish their home, they go into a gallery, or a show room where they expect the artist or designer to have studied or at least have a vast amount of knowledge of art and design and the products there. And they want to see how creative the person is to apply something different to their wall.

When you go into a book shop, you expect the writer of your chosen title to know how to string a sentence together, and to have some creativity in constructing a story. You don’t learn creativity from studying STEM subjects.

If the message keeps continuing into the next generation after generation… they will eventually all have qualifications in the “hard” subjects, surely there will be nobody fit to work in the art or humanities industry. Then, consequently, the science, technology, engineering, and maths sectors will be overrun, and too competitive because everybody has the same qualifications.

There are thousands of jobs in both arts and humanities, and more and more are created everyday, more of which require knowledge and a form of qualification in the subject. STEM subjects are important for the professionals who need the exact qualifications such as doctors, nurses, and scientists, but not everybody should be swayed to these professions.

Not everyone has an interest, or a capability of studying “hard” subjects, students should be free to make their own subject choices. Not guided by the people who cannot fix the education system as it is.



(Photo: Wikipedia)

Outlaw Training – Week 4

MediaCityUK 25/02/14
MediaCityUK 25/02/14

Unfortunately no fancy photos from the top of a hill this week as the only cycling I managed was to work and back, and let me tell you there isn’t really any beautiful sights in Trafford. Apart from seeing what looked like a Duke of Edinburgh group walking past the Trafford Centre… very exotic.

But I did see this beautiful sunset on the way to Tuesday night training coming out of lecture at MediaCityUK! (photo)

So after a terrible 500m time trial in the pool last week (week 3) I decided I shouldn’t neglect my swimming anymore because that won’t help me beat Jack or my dad in the pool at Kendal sprint tri at the end of April. Nor will it help me achieve a half decent time in my main focus for this year. So I have decided to focus on one of three disciplines each week. Which makes it slightly more complicated as running is also my main discipline to focus on for this year…

So the plan is to continue with my normal training plan, but swap some sessions to result in alternate swim weeks, bike weeks, and run weeks.

Which also helps as my pile of work, books to read, essays to write and exams to revise for keeps growing, an hour in the pool, is just as valuable as 4hrs on the bike.

But seen as the UK’s genius deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made it easier for “poorer” people to get into, and afford university at £9,000 a year (from £3,000). In addition to less teaching time, results in an average of twenty weeks of lectures in an academic year (two semesters of ten weeks). That is including the two or three days a week we have off. Which for my university course is 240 hours a year of lectures out of 8760 hours in a year…

I finish university on the 11th of April for SUMMER (isn’t April spring?) which means after that my days will be spent mainly training, and putting the hours in on the bike ready for the triathlon season!

It is perhaps coincidental that I finish university just before the triathlon season starts… meaning that I probably should listen to my mother – in that if I focused as much on my work as I did on sport my grades would be better…

Another thing about week four is that I did seven sessions in total, three of which were fat burning (pre breakfast) to try and get me lean(er) for the season and upcoming races.

After being 89.3% positive I have lost weight by staring at my stomach in the mirror and seeing the outlines of some abs poking through, yet still too scared to weigh myself apprehensive of the outcome I have bought myself some weighing scales.

So here starts the real “diet” and logging of weight loss, and fat loss to see some lean arms and legs and fingers crossed for a washboard stomach.

(It cannot be referred to as a ‘diet’ due to high volume of training and food being fuel… instead of cutting calories it is a slight change in meals and nutrition and if not more calorie intake.)

So keep your eyes peeled for some photos of delicious looking food drawn up from my nutrition plan… the one I’ve been following for five weeks or so now.


Week four mileage:

Swim: 2 miles

Bike: 12 miles

Run: 17.2 miles

On target?