The government is expected to evaluate the National Citizen Service next year amid concerns about whether it has a long-term impact on participants.
In a report released last week on the options for evaluating the NCS, which was produced by the consultancy London Economics for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, four options are discussed for tracking the long-term impact on young people who take part in the NCS’s programmes.
The NCS runs a number of two to four-week programmes for 15 to 17-year-olds during school holidays in the spring, summer and autumn.
There have been a number of evaluations of the short and medium-term impacts of the NCS, the report says, but none that have focused on the long-term outcomes.
Previous evaluations have shown that the NCS generates more economic benefits for the country than it costs to run its programmes, with the summer programmes showing total economic benefits of between £136.3m and £287.7m, compared with the £118.9m cost of running the programme.
The long-term social objectives for the NCS, the report says, focus on social cohesion, social mobility and social engagement.
In particular, there is a focus on nine outcomes for NCS participants, the report says, including that participants have broader social networks and better educational outcomes, get more involved in activities that benefit others and political processes, and have higher levels of social trust and confidence.
But there is not currently any established way of evaluating the NCS’s success in delivering against those long-term targets and whether it therefore provides value for money, the report says.
"There is a clear trade-off of how far into the future after participation on the NCS programme long-term outcomes can be measured," it says.
"Specifically, many of the outcomes of interest are very long-term in nature. However, there is a question as to the extent to which participation in a three or four-week programme might realistically influence young people a number of years into the future."
The NCS’s long-term impact has been questioned previously, with the think tank New Philanthropy Capital recently suggesting the programme should be scrapped if it proved less effective than other youth programmes.
The Local Government Association recently called for NCS funding to be redirected to local youth services because it said only 12 per cent of eligible young people attended NCS programmes.
The options for evaluating the NCS mentioned in the report include carrying out a one-off survey of NCS participants and those who did not participate despite showing an interest, or a "data-linkage" evaluation against higher education outcomes.
Other long-term evaluation options for the NCS identified in the report include a bespoke survey of a sample of 2019 NCS participants and identifying NCS participants in existing longitudinal surveys.
It is expected that any evaluation of the long-term benefits of the NCS will be delivered by the summer of 2019, in time for the 2020 government spending review, the report says.
The DCMS and NCS will now assess which of the options provided in the report should be undertaken, according to the report.