Full steam ahead for the nation's fastest growing NCS scheme

What are teenagers doing this summer after their GCSEs?

In Oxfordshire, at least, where the county council is the country’s biggest local authority provider of the National Citizen Service, the answer is increasingly likely to be a four-week summer scheme aimed at helping young people make a difference in their community.

The county was the very first council to deliver NCS in 2012, when the flagship Coalition Government scheme was first launched by Prime Minister and Oxfordshire MP David Cameron.

Such has been its success in Oxfordshire that over the coming months almost 1,000 15 – 17 year olds from across the county are set to experience the unique blend of social action projects, personal development and outdoor education that the council’s programme has to offer.

As well as being the biggest council provider, Oxfordshire now boasts the fastest growing local scheme of some 360 across the UK, with numbers taking part almost doubling each year (75 students in 2012 has become 980 signed up for 2016).

"Pretty big deal"

Oxfordshire’s programme co-ordinator Ryan Johnson said: “We’re five years in and it’s fair to say the NCS is now a pretty big deal in Oxfordshire. We’ve reached the point where a very significant proportion - close to 10 per cent - of the county’s eligible students are taking part. It’s clear that young people and their families are rightly seeing this both as a unique opportunity for personal and social development as well as a seriously useful addition to the CV.

“There’s a real buzz about what we’re able to offer students here and that’s helped us to continue to attract more participants – and therefore funding to help the scheme grow.”

As a council NCS provider, Oxfordshire is in the minority but local authority status has a number of advantages. Holding schools data for instance, enables the council to promote NCS to all eligible young people in the county, with direct mail-outs inviting thousands of families to apply.

Close links with other council services such as children’s social care, youth offending and disabilities services also makes it easier to engage and recruit more vulnerable young people to take part.

Outdoor centres

As well as its 62-acre Oxford-based outdoor education centre, Hill End, the council has exclusive access to three similar centres outside its borders in Gloucestershire, Devon and South Wales, where many of the NCS activities take place. The summer camp element of the course at Hill End, which features social development workshops, offers a totally different experience from other local programmes restricted to using university halls of residence and a classroom environment.

It all adds up to a unique offer for Oxfordshire young people, which Mr Johnson believes is transforming the lives of those taking part.

He said: “We are seeing many NCS graduates coming back as volunteers and paid staff , which creates a wonderful sense of continuity and is a real source of inspiration for the young people taking part. It also means Oxfordshire’s NCS is able to support the ongoing development of participants.”

“Perhaps the best thing is that in years to come, so many young people who grew up here will be able to reminisce about their time doing NCS, and in many cases, reflect on how their shared experience forged lasting friendships and helped shape their adult lives.”

Bright future

As the scheme continues to grow, new innovations are coming on stream, including an emerging partnership with the Didcot University Technical College, where Year 12 students are taking part in the NCS during term-time as part of their introduction to the Sixth Form. The course has also opened up a position for a digital marketing apprentice as part of the council’s commitment to the apprenticeship agenda.

Mr Johnson added: “As long as we can be successful and continue to attract ongoing funding, we’ll look to offer as many young people as possible the chance to take part in something really special – which is exactly what we believe the NCS in Oxfordshire has become.”

Find out more about the NCS in Oxfordshire