NCS: The lessons for youth social action and where we go from here

NCS is in the spotlight

The report published by the Public Accounts Committee today adds further scrutiny to the National Citizen Service (NCS) and to the public debate as to its scale, operation and future. The passage of the NCS bill through parliament, which will reach its next stage in the commons soon, has already provided an opportunity for voluntary organisations’ concerns to be aired about the delivery of the programme.

As such, the criticisms in the PAC report are not new. NCVO has already brought together stakeholders to raise some of the delivery issues that will not be addressed by the new legislation. More than ever there is a need to continue the conversation and to face the challenges within the programme head-on and for NCS to approach this collaboratively with the sector.

The NCS programme has worthwhile aims. Delivering a unique experience for young people that will support them to develop skills and experience which will be valuable throughout their lives is something all in our sector support.

One way in which the programme aims to do this is through enabling young people to get involved in social action and volunteering in communities. This is important to the debate: NCS is not solely a volunteering or social action programme. Social action is only one component of the offer. However, in a programme that has the potential to reach so many young people and give them their first experience of social action, this area of the programme deserves more attention. It’s also where there are real opportunities to improve the delivery of the programme. Based upon the feedback we have received from NCVO members, there are clearly ways to build on NCS’s progress so far and to improve opportunities for young people to get involved in social action.

It’s not just about NCS

It would be a misconception to assume that the existence of NCS means that we can tick developing youth social action and volunteering off the to-do list. Recent data shows a positive trend emerging in levels of young people’s involvement in volunteering, but if we are to ensure that this involvement continues to be sustained and to be impactful we need to work harder.

NCS certainly has a role to play in the range of opportunities for young people to get involved. But we need to think carefully about the consequences of focusing so much time, investment and attention on one programme. The PAC report itself suggests that work should be done to identify and understand the maximum likely voluntary participation and we have to accept the limited appeal that one specific programme can have. We owe it to young people to ensure there is a diverse landscape of opportunities for them to get involved in social action and volunteering and this requires more effective partnership working. NCS on its own is not enough.

Where do we go from here?

One of the opportunities to move forward has to be exploring how NCS can work alongside other initiatives and organisations to enhance the youth social action landscape. Other organisations offer volunteering and social action programmes that help deliver similar outcomes for young people, using a range of different models of engagement. We know that one size does not fit all.

Indeed, this has been recognised in the bill before parliament. We welcome the government’s decision to amend the royal charter to state that other organisations supporting young people should benefit from the actions of the trust. We need to ensure that this is put into practice. We need to ensure that other programmes also get support and investment or we risk losing a vibrant mix of ways that young people can get involved. This is especially important at a time where investment in youth work and other volunteer-involving organisations has been, at best, patchy.

Social action may also be self-generated by young people, outside the context of formal programmes. So we also need to think through what role more informal, youth-led participation plays in developing young people.

We are keen to continue the conversation with NCS and the sector to enhance the youth social action element of the programme and to build more meaningful partnerships. We believe that these will result in the development of more quality opportunities for young people to get involved in social action and volunteering.


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Avatar photo Kristen is NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager. She’s interested in raising the profile of volunteer management as a profession, and the development of approaches which can help volunteering deliver for people, organisations and communities.

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