National Citizen Service faces staffing challenge as programme for schools grows

Finding enough staff to care for and ensure the safeguarding of pupils on the National Citizen Service is a “challenge” for the government’s flagship youth programme as it continues to expand, a senior member at the organisation has admitted.

The programme, which takes 16 to 18 year olds, on outward-bound trips and run community projects for up to four weeks, has been set a target of reaching 360,000 youngsters by 2020 – more than triple the number of young people it reached last year.

Currently the programme requires 15,000 delivery staff, with a ratio of two members of staff to a group of 15 pupils.

But data shared with Schools Week shows high levels of participation in NCS from pupils with special educational needs – which may represent a further staffing challenge.

Seasonal staff for the programme include teachers, teaching assistants and special educational needs co-ordinators.

But Naim Moukarzel, the new director of impact at the NCS Trust, who came under heavy fire at a Westminster education forum today about the trust’s missed targets and expenditure, admitted it was a tall order to find the staff to mentor all the pupils.

“It’s a heck of a challenge.

“How many we will need will also vary depending on how many young people with different kinds of needs there are.”

The programme, which is currently overseen by the NCS Trust, has a stated mission of “social mixing” between pupils of different backgrounds, meaning that participants are often on free school meals or have special educational meals, as well as including those from pupil referral units or not in any education or training at all.

Figures shared with Schools Week by the NCS trust show the organisation has successfully increased the proportion of SEND pupils on the programmes over the past three years.

Last year, 5.1 per cent of participants (4,637) of pupils on the NCS programme had a statement or EHCP. In 2013, 4.5 per cent of pupils with plans participated.

The NCS is developing a training and development programme for staff

Many of these pupils will need a specialist SEND mentor, while participants with more severe needs receive two-to-one support – representing a significant staffing challenge for the organisation.

To try to tackle the situation, the NCS Trust is developing a “training and development programme”, said Moukarzel, with a launch date not yet confirmed.

The query about staffing was raised in the context of a heated debate about the future of NCS this morning, given the company is about to gain Royal Charter status that will put it on a statutory footing. The government will send all 16-year-old pupils a letter about the programme, and the organisation will be required to publish a business plan and annual accounts.

But a delegate from Cambridgeshire county council said that she was concerned about safeguarding of youngsters with the programme expanding so rapidly.

The youth workers who know about vulnerable youngsters are not fully integrated into the NCS model of engaging with local authorities, she claimed, meaning “safeguarding won’t happen effectively in your system.”

Moukarzel assured her that all proper safeguarding procedures and checks were in place.