National Citizenship Service for 16-year-olds launched today
(TELEGRAPH) The “National Citizen Service” will bring together 16-year-olds from different backgrounds and around the country to become community volunteers and join in outdoor pursuits.
David Cameron has said that he hopes participation in the non-military, voluntary form of national service will become a “rite of passage” for all teenagers.
It is being announced by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, as part of the Government’s drive to create a “Big Society” of volunteers.
While critics have cast doubt over whether teenagers would be prepared to give up their summer holidays to participate in the programme, the scheme is close to the Prime Minister’s heart.
He was a member of the cadet force while at Eton College, and has also spoken of how much he enjoyed volunteering to help shop for local elderly people while at school. He wants the Service to become one of the “proudest legacies” of his Government.
As well as giving 16-year-olds a sense of “purpose, optimism and belonging,” Mr Cameron has said that he hopes that the scheme will promote a sense of greater community cohesion.
Teenagers would be put into mixed groups to ensure that they got to know youngsters from different social groups, ethnicities and parts of the country from their own.
When he announced the Citizen Service during the general election, Mr Cameron said: “I want to see a programme which engages young people and gives them a sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.
“Something like national service, but not military, not compulsory but universal.
“And in the same spirit, mixing up people from different backgrounds. A residential programme, so young people have time to live together, work together, play together.”
A military form of national service was compulsory in the United Kingdom between 1947 and 1960, and remains in place in a number of countries around the world, including Russia, Israel and China.
While the new civilian National Citizen Scheme would initially be voluntary, Mr Cameron has previously expressed the hope that in time all 16-year-olds would take part.
The programmes, which will include residential and at-home elements, will be run by independent charities and social enterprises, with input from local businesses.
In opposition, the Conservative Party helped raise £2 million for pilot programmes in London, Wales and the North West held in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
The 16-year-olds who took part in the pilots spent a week doing “challenging” outdoor activities, before a residential week in which they lived together while working on projects such as film making and sports coaching.
During a third and final week, youngsters were encouraged to come up with their own ideas for a challenge which would make a difference in their local community.
The aim of the pilots was said to be to teach “leadership, management and communication skills”.
Funding for the Citizen Service is being provided through the scrapping of a community cohesion programme run by the Department for Communities.