National Citizen Service (NCS) is a government-backed programme open to 15 to 17 year olds across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Focusing both on personal development and supporting young people to help others, the programme aims to promote a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society. Participants build skills for work and life, take on new challenges, make new friends and contribute to their local area. Since its inception in 2011, over 120,000 teenagers have taken part in the programme.
Taking place largely outside school and college term time, NCS programmes follow the same structure but are of a different length depending on the time of year. An initial residential phase is spent outdoors participating in challenging activities such as abseiling, water rafting and trekking. The second phase – which is also residential in the summer season, typically at university halls of residence – focuses on independent living, developing new skills and finding out more about community needs in participants’ local areas. Teams complete NCS by planning and delivering social action projects with groups from their local community.
Wellbeing and evaluation
NCS aims to equip young people with the capabilities that will help them flourish as they move into adulthood, and to link them to their communities in a way and at a scale that will spark societal change. Wellbeing – as measured across both subjective and objective domains – is therefore at the heart of the definition of success for the programme.
The four subjective wellbeing measures from the ONS indicator set are incorporated in the NCS evaluation framework, together with a range of other domains:
- emotional resilience and perception of control over future success
- levels of social trust
- intention to volunteer and time spent helping others
- understanding of community power structures and intention to vote
- attitudes and behaviours towards people from different backgrounds
Independent evaluation of NCS includes pre- and post-surveying of participants and a matched control group. This enables the identification of programme effects in percentage-point terms.
The latest published evaluation of NCS programmes in 2013 identified a range of statistically significant impacts across all the outcome areas tested. From a wellbeing perspective, the most notable impacts of the summer 2013 programme included:
- A 7%pt impact on levels of social trust, as measured by level of agreement with the statement ‘most people can be trusted’
- Between 5 and 9%pts impact on a range of resilience measures, and an impact of 23%pts on young people eligible for free school meals agreeing that they can usually handle what comes their way
- Significant impacts against all four of the ONS subjective wellbeing measures – life satisfaction, happiness, anxiety and feeling that life is worthwhile
- An increased intention to vote, and an impact of 6.3hrs per quarter spent doing formal or informal volunteering
- Indirect impacts on healthy behaviour in relation to alcohol and cigarettes
Previous long-term studies of the programme found one-year on impacts against the ONS measures (e.g. 2011 participants saw an 11%pt reduction in anxiety levels 12 months after completing NCS). Further longitudinal work is underway with 2013 programme participants to test the extent to which impacts ‘stick’. NCS Trust and programme providers are also working closely with academics from Manchester, Loughborough and Swansea universities on ESRC and PhD projects to more closely examine the impacts of the programme on social cohesion, resilience and notions of citizenship.