Councillors need to wake up to the National Citizen Service programme


Another National Citizen Service graduation in Cambridge – but why are councils slow to engage with this Cabinet-Office-backed programme?

After all, it’s one of the few programmes in the civil society sector that’s having its budget increased over the next few years.

I blogged about the graduation ceremony from the large summer intake (see here). Although the autumn intake was inevitably smaller – with the 16-17 year olds taking part having to deal with much worse weather when out and about, they still achieved great things.

“I’m sorry, we don’t do that sort of thing”

…was the response to one enquiry from Cambridgeshire County Council to one of the groups on the NCS programme in Cambridgeshire. They mentioned this in their final presentation. As you can imagine I was horrified to hear this. I was aware from talking to the young people and course leaders at the last graduation event they had experienced ‘issues’ with local councils, but to hear the words quoted in front of an audience of about 70 people … Not good Cambridgeshire, not good.

The programme is in its third year now. It’s time councils and councillors woke up to its existence and started showing some real support and leadership

By that, I don’t mean telling the young people what to do. It’s the councillors and the councils asking themselves:

“What can we do to ensure that the young people on this programme achieve their potential?”

There are some really simple things that councils and councillors can do. Things such as:

  • Inviting course leaders to meet with interested councillors to introduce them to the course
  • Inviting course leaders to meet with council officials whose official duties involve (directly or indirectly) working with young people
  • Inviting young people to present their achievement to full council meetings
  • Planning and sequencing on both sides so that councils know when to expect correspondence/contact from young people working on projects
  • Having nominated councillors and/or officials as first points of contact/barrier-busters should the need arise
  • Design/develop some learning activities for young people on the course as part of the programme

NCS in East Anglia’s contact details are here.

Diverse individuals with diverse skills, needs and challenges to overcome

Looking at both of the graduation ceremonies and the presentations the young people did, I’m beginning to see some patterns developing. (Ditto with keeping watch on their social media feeds too). The first one is that the abilities and talents of the individuals taking part are incredibly diverse, each with their own skills to bring and personal challenges to overcome. This was underlined by the opening speech of one of the graduates from the summer programme I spoke to, as well as one of the course leaders. While a group of more emotionally mature & academically bright teenagers may achieve more than those who might be late developers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the latter group have not overcome big challenges. The courage all of these young people showed was overcoming their own personal barriers – not someone else’s that, for example might have been set by an exam board. That was one of the lessons I learned with the Prince’s Trust over a decade ago – after having spent the previous 10 years being conditioned into an exams mindset with summer exams every single summer till that point.

The importance of planning and sequencing

This diversity of individuals means that planning and sequencing for outside organisations looking to engage is ever so important. That also means building in some sort of flexibility to account for the nature of the groups that take part in the courses.

There is a new spring cohort coming through, though the larger one is likely to be over the summer given the exams that the teenagers may be wanting to prioritise. One of the things that Puffles’ teenage followers continue to keep me ‘grounded’ on is the exam pressure young people have to face – even though when I look at the debates that happen in Westminster it seems all too often that politicians make it seem like a game. It isn’t.

In terms of the details, the course leaders and the council officials at each of the district and shire tier authorities need to work through the dates. Advertising the programme – are schools, youth centres and libraries receiving publicity in time? Programme start dates – are councillors and youth workers made aware? Project planning – what days are these going to start and are your customer service/enquiry lines all tipped off about the likelihood of receiving calls? What are the most appropriate dates for councillors to engage with the young people on the programme? The Peterborough group had a councillor with them for a morning session introducing them to local government. Can this be adopted by all of the other Cambridgeshire local authorities and built in and a formal part of the programme?

Turning Puffles’ eyes towards Cambridge City Council

Poor souls – they have a politically-aware dragon fairy in their neighbourhood making all sorts of unreasonable demands on them!

I’ll given them till this time next year, mindful that there is huge political uncertainty over the next 6 months with council elections ahead – one that has a reasonable chance of Labour taking control of the council from the Liberal Democrats. (Deferring to Phil Rodgers’ analysis here).

In a nutshell, I’m going to be leaning on the City Council to show some evidence of strategic planning and co-ordination with the NCS course leaders in Cambridge.

That doesn’t need to mean a huge amount of extra work. But at some stage it may require working with the county council to bring together senior managers of the city’s secondary schools, further education colleges, major employers and local charities to come to some agreement about how the city is going to help the young people on the NCS programme achieve their potential. If that model works, it’s one that other district councils in Cambridgeshire can modify and adopt. I’m picking Cambridge because I can only do one district council at a time! (But if someone else in other Cambridgeshire districts wants to go after their area, feel free!)

Teenagers in Cambridgeshire are more than doing their bit through the NCS programme. It’s time for us adults to do ours.


3 thoughts on “Councillors need to wake up to the National Citizen Service programme

  1. I’m up for this, Puffles, but there’s a big chunk of responsibility there that belongs to the County as well – I hate silos especially when it comes to community work, but we have to make sure that we try to include the council that’s actually responsible for youth work, FE colleges and schools – and they have real budget problems that limit their ability to do more than statutory responsibility work. However, that’s about councils, not individual councillors and groups, and I think these guys are incredibly impressive – and I want to talk to them.

  2. Pre expansion it was recommended that the NCS be linked to citizenship education in schools with a focus on active citizenship (Youth Citizenship Commission).

    As it is NCS is an expensive and selective way of providing a narrow range of opportunities for a limited time period to a narrow age range of young people. Opportunities that were avaliable nationally, all year round for a much broader age range of young people by Youth Services and voluntary groups were jettisoned in favour of this big society venture. Decimating local professionals, voluntary groups and support with a centralised, top down agenda.

    To expect people to keep chasing after each new government initiative, whilst knowing full well all that is built up will be torn down around you takes a special sort of motivation.
    Yours, a cynical ex-youth worker of fifteen years relocated out of their community

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