Improvements are needed if the National Citizen Service, the government volunteering programme for 16-year-olds, is to build on the success of last year's pilot programmes, according to a report published today.
Evaluation of National Citizen Service Pilots Interim Report by NatCen Social Research, the Office for Public Management and New Philanthropy Capital, says the Cabinet Office and Department for Education should consider longer lead-in times to ease staffing and recruitment, longer contracts for programme providers, and greater flexibility in the organisation of activities.
The evaluation also says that general awareness of the NCS was low and it needed to be "coherently championed at national and local level"; that organisations providing the NCS supported its structure and were keen to remain involved but were concerned about plans for a threefold expansion of numbers; and that more work was needed to convert expressions of interest by young people into sign-ups.
The pilots were successful in creating leadership and communication skills and preparing young people for adulthood, the reports says. Eighty-one per cent of those who signed up completed the programmes, and of those 92 per cent said they would recommend NCS to their friends.
The programme provides a combination of residential weeks and volunteering projects for young people. It was attended by 8,500 young people last year at a cost of £14.2m. The number of places is expected to rise to 30,000 this summer and 90,000 by 2014.
The report says the government commissioned 10,000 places last year, at a cost to government of around £1,300 each. The total cost per commissioned place was £1,553 if the value of other contributions is included.
These contributions included £3m in benefits in kind from the wider community, including free food for teenagers living by themselves for a week, free equipment for volunteering projects, and mentoring and support from businesses.
The evaluation says that the government did well in its goal of creating a social mix: 28 per cent of participants were non-white, compared with 18 per cent of the general population, and 16 per cent had a disability or health problem, compared with 12 per cent of the general population.
Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said yesterday that the report showed NCS represented "excellent value for money" and was "a validation of everything we did in opposition". He said the findings were "even more positive than we expected".
Hurd said there were no plans to extend NCS beyond 90,000 places and there were no plans to make it compulsory. But a condensed version of the NCS would be introduced in the autumn for those unable to attend over the summer. This, said Hurd, would feature a single residential week over the autumn half term and then more part-time days thereafter.
The evaluation will continue with tranches of NCS attendees over several years.