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August 31, 2011

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Howard Williamson


With my colleague Lord Victor Adebowale, I have been arguing in a similar vein to David Blunkett for well over a decade. Our proposals - set out in a three page document long ago - were for a 'national community service programme'. We were, arguably, more adventurous and perhaps more controversial, than any proposals to date. In 1998 I suggested that secondary education should comprise an academic, vocational and community/citizenship curriculum, the latter of which would be part of the national community service programme. Doing things for others would be part of what you did at school, and then beyond school. There would be a positive payback: our thoughts were about some kind of golden handshake to adulthood to finance, as David Blunkett also suggests, university education or business start-up.
The critical issue for us was that it would have to be compulsory. Once some young people wriggle out, or see it as irrelevant or unnecessary in their lives, others will inevitably follow. We argued for a huge range of choice but no option of NOT taking part. For the primary purpose of such a programme has to be to close the 'youth divide'. British society has become increasingly characterised by a division between young people with a cluster of opportunity (education, networks, resources) and those without. There are fewer and fewer places and platforms for shared activity and shared experience. A national community service programme, as we envisaged it, would oil the wheels in that direction.
Victor and I have always believed there needs to be a serious, robust, non-partisan and no-holds barred debate at the highest level about these issues and possibilities. The Prime Minister is behind National Citizens' Service, which in our view, is a reasonable start. David Blunkett has connected his ideas chronologically to NCS. 'All' we need now is stronger embedding of such activity over time, growing incrementally from the age of 11 through to the age of 18 or thereabouts, so that children and young people learn that civic responsibility and community engagement, in some form or another, is the 'natural' thing to do. We have so many building blocks in place already (I hardly need to list them): it is a matter of pulling them together and ensuring that ALL young people get equal encouragement and cajoling to play their part.

Dr Howard Williamson
Professor of European Youth Policy
University of Glamorgan
Wales, UK

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