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.

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Concrete means investment

The Bay Gateway: the new road connecting Heysham port and power station to the M6, as well as links to the city centre and surrounding areas.

Opening in October 2016, the road took over 72 weeks to build. Acquiring land, and applying for licenses to remove animal habitats was the hardest part of the project to plough through the Lancastrian countryside to create better connections to the city centre, the port, and industrial sites.

Not only has it turned out to be a huge convenience to the local people, it has become an opportunity for more investment in the area. For Heysham port, it means a shorter journey time to the M6, ultimately appealing to businesses and creating improved connections to Belfast, Dublin, and The Isle of Man. Also increased freight traffic through to the M6, could make the small province of Heysham a bigger and better haulage hotspot for the North-West.

The plan for the road has been in the pipeline since 1948. Over the years progressions were made to the get the project started. Heysham bypass was built over moss-land in 1994 to increase transport links to Lancaster, and in 2009 the project was initially approved funding of £111m by the Department for Transport; in 2014, the construction process began.

 

 

 

As Lancaster is situated on the main line of the railway network between Scotland, London and Manchester, and with the M6 running parallel, it is the perfect historic commuting city to the bigger business districts of the North; with an hours journey to Manchester, slightly longer to Liverpool, and only two-and-a-half hours to London.

Lancaster has the perfect balance of a small market town atmosphere coupled with areas of outstanding natural beauty in the local countryside, and beautiful views across Morecambe Bay.

Now with the new road, it takes about nine minutes to get from Heysham to the M6, instead of the 40-50 minutes it could take being stuck in traffic to get to the city centre and the M6.

Five years between the government approving the funding and the construction beginning was a long time to iron out the issues it came across. At the beginning there were initially three proposed routes for the road, all of which came with their individual problems with biodiversity, European laws and a licence from DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) to remove animal habitats (in this case bats and great crested newts) and acquisition of the land.

At the same time, it became clear to the Department for Transport the road was only predicted to be between 0-10 percent successful, which meant a huge gamble of £111m of tax payers money.

However, the government had to the spend the money (the budget eventually rose to £140m) on either building a M6 link road, or improving air quality in congested areas, and transport links in the city centre.

For local people it means almost no time being stuck in traffic going to, and leaving Lancaster in everyday’s rush hour. Not to mention, the improved air quality in the city centre and Carnforth, by taking more vehicles out of the more densely populated areas.

For businesses it means improved access to industrial and development sites, regeneration for the region, (construction of the road alone employed 3,000 people), and a park and ride scheme meaning better access to the city centre, in addition to the walking, and cycle paths on the road.

With these points considered, ploughing through the countryside with concrete has its positives. Improving air quality in congested areas, and encouraging investment to boost the local economy. According to a study by Lancashire County Council, for every £1.00 invested in the road, the community will get £4.00 back in long-term investment.

Reminiscing

I enjoyed my time at Heysham, I would not be as hardworking and have success in sport and academics without the support and encouragement  of certain members of staff, as well as the incentives that the school has.

I chose to stay at Heysham for sixth form, after I had been a student for five years. During this time I made friends, I had good relationships with most of my teachers, everything was accessible and I knew by staying I had opportunities such as being Head Girl, that I would not have had elsewhere.

I believe that Heysham has helped to shape me into the person I am today. As it was a Sports College, I was always involved in sport throughout my time there including: hockey, netball, representing the district at cross country, and I represented Lancashire in athletics in 2010. We were encouraged to volunteer and give back opportunities to other children with the Sports Leaders scheme, as well as other awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

One of my favorite aspects of the school is that they award students for outstanding effort, most improved and many other awards in all faculties of the school; no matter what your talents are, you are recognised for it.

In addition to this we have opportunities to travel abroad to train and compete overseas, as well as academic trips all around Europe! Ranging from ski trips to Austria, Club La Santa training resort in Lanzarote and educational trips to Disneyland!

The first trip to Lanzarote sparked my interest in triathlon. When I came back my interest in fitness and sport had blossomed and I took part in my first triathlon. Moving forward three years I have now qualified to represent the GB Middle Distance Triathlon Age-group team, and have returned to Club La Santa many times–without the first taste in July 2011, I wouldn’t have known about the resort, or the ultimate challenge of Ironman, that I am wound up so very tightly in, on the little volcanic rock; and wouldn’t have found a sport I was actually good at. For that, I thank the opportunities given to me from the school; in particular Mr and Mrs Kirby for organising the trip every year and Mr Kirby for the many cycling trips to Famara beach and the cafe!

Aside from sport, I became head girl in my last year. A lot of people knew me at school as being sporty and hardworking. Studying there for seven years taught me maturity and to focus on the more important things such as education, and future prospects. So many times, we were told that if we didn’t get the qualifications we wouldn’t get the job. Even at university we hear that phrase–because it’s true. Education enables you to better your knowledge and stand out from the crowd, and education is as much as learning as it is personal development. To be at school for seven years is a large part of life. Then to continue and complete a degree or further it enables you to better your lifestyle and give you more opportunities–make use of it!

If I could change anything about my time at Heysham, it would be to have worked harder earlier in my GCSE’s, to prepare me for A level and university. And to have worked that little bit harder in Club La Santa!

To come back and visit staff at school is a reward as well as a reminder of how hard I, and others, have worked to get into higher education and use all of the opportunities we had. It is also a glimpse into the past at how far we have come since being there, and how much there is to go.