If you read my blog post “Teens Taking GCSEs: What Happens at the End of Year 11?” then you may have already heard of National Citizens Service. Some of my contributors to that blog post mentioned this government-backed activity programme which runs in England and Northern Ireland after the end of school year 11. Having read such strong recommendations, I was glad to be given the chance to find out more.
The GCSE Exam Period
My 16 year old daughter Fizz is in the thick of it right now with revision and exams beginning this week. Through the Easter holidays the rest of us in the family have all orbited her like moons about a planet. While she got her head down to revise, we organised our days around her. We took her for ice-cream breaks in the afternoons, kept the heating on in the day and I even tidied her bedroom floor without a word of complaint! For our travel-loving tribe, it was a strangely immobile Easter break.
This year the GCSE exam period runs for over two months, ending in late June. By then Fizz will really need a change of scene and lifestyle.
Joining the NCS Activity Programme
The National Citizens Service (NCS) is an activity programme of two to four weeks aimed at 16 and 17 year-olds. The entire thing is amazing value at just £50. There are outdoor team-building activities in the first week. Then in the same group they progress on to life skills and social action in the community. Finally there’s an end of programme celebration event. Fizz looked over the programme for the first week and immediately singled out the zip-wires! I know she’d like the hiking too and my youngest Belle would love the climbing wall if she was old enough. Accommodation, food and travel are all included in the £50 cost.
Like us, you may have booked a summer holiday but it’s reassuring to know that NCS are flexible. They will endeavour to get each teen a suitable time slot on this unique programme.
Transforming Young People and Communities
A key feature of NCS is the chance to unite young people from different backgrounds and grow them in shared experiences. The movement was born from a desire to grow seeds of community cohesion. I think this is so worthwhile in today’s world. For example, when we picked the girls’ secondary school we had the choice of a less diverse school or her current one, and I’m glad I picked this one but it’s still quite a narrow constituency. Our rural town has never felt very diverse and as a city girl myself I really notice this. I don’t think my children notice as much, as it’s just what they are used to.
I make a point of talking about racism, disadvantage and marginalised groups with my children and they have taken it very much to heart, but it’s all words. It’s not the same as experience. I do think kids can grow up anywhere and have a limited outlook, it’s not a unique problem.
Now – that may all sound very deep and serious, but NCS is a salve to our blinkered lifestyles which is irresistibly fun and exciting. Through the first week of the activity programme the mixed group of young people form bonds whilst on outdoor adventures. The following weeks of the programme are spent on residential with the same people. Together they take on more responsibility and develop more skills over time.
The community action project they do gives them workplace and leadership skills as well as confidence. The aim is to build a more mobile and engaged society, and inevitably this makes better citizens. There’s lots of fun throughout and young people get to celebrate their achievements at the end.
The NCS activity programme is government-backed. Since it started in 2011, almost 400,000 young people have taken part. This year over 100,000 teenagers will take part – that’s nearly one in six 16 year-olds. NCS believes that every young person should have the opportunity to take part, and support is available for those with additional needs, and bursaries too. There should be no barriers to any young person taking part, and it’s easy to register to find out more.
There are still places available for Year 11s to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity this summer. To sign up now, go to the NCS website.
additional photography kindly provided by NCS.