How you can make sure your teen makes the most of their summer

Pamela Hudd – Localities Programme Manager, National Citizen Service

Society these days puts a lot of pressure on young people to stand out from the crowd and it seems to be getting more difficult to just rely on grades to get you where you want to be. Whether it’s applying for sixth form, job applications or university, establishments are now looking at what teens are doing outside the classroom, as well as inside it. It can be difficult, however, for all young people to have access to the same opportunities outside of school, which is why it’s important for different initiatives to help level the playing field for them.

Enter the National Citizen Service (NCS), a two to four week programme that brings together young people from different backgrounds in small groups, to reflect the social makeup of their local communities. The programme includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’ and a community-based social action project to give something back to where they live. For many, this will be the first time they mix with new social groups in their local area, through experiences designed to help them come together as a group.

And it’s not just building connections that young people benefit from on programme. Teens are pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to learn new skills, explore their local area and encouraged to think about issues that affect them and how they can help solve the problem. Independent research shows it works, with those who participate feeling more confident in their future life chances and opportunities agreeing that they have the skills and experience needed to get a job and also feel better able to cope with challenges in life.

NCS is uniquely designed to help young people develop confidence and integrate more into their communities across the country, whilst opening their eyes to the various charities and initiatives that operate in their region, encouraging them to get involved and make a difference through active citizenship. One of the key ways that NCS ensures this mixing occurs, is by placing young people in groups with a range of social backgrounds. This allows participants to form bonds with people that they wouldn’t usually encounter, helping them break social barriers that would otherwise be difficult to overcome.

To ensure that each programme is designed with their region in mind, NCS is delivered by local organisations and grassroots charities, which have a fundamental understanding of the makeup of the communities they serve.  In West Somerset, NCS is delivered by Somerset Rural Youth Project; an organisation with a long history of helping young people participate in positive activities, access training and employment opportunities and overcome the isolation of living in rural areas. 

More recently, NCS has begun working closely with West Somerset College, Somerset County Council, West Somerset Council and the Careers and Enterprise Company to make sure the way the programme is delivered to reflect local need.  We are forging relationships with key local employers, such as EDF Energy and Miles Tea & Coffee, to offer unique experiences to young people taking part in the NCS programme.  We also hope to trial a city-based residential as part of this autumn’s NCS programme, as an alternative for those already accustomed to camping in the countryside. 

And it doesn’t even break the bank! It’s important to us that NCS is accessible to everyone, so the entire programme is priced at £50, with bursaries available upon request. As an organisation, it’s important that young people are made aware of the importance of social integration and are encouraged to reach their full potential by helping them overcome social divides.

To find out more about NCS and sign up a young person for a local programme this summer, go to

Independent research results can be found at:



The relationship between language skills and social mobility

Many children in West Somerset start school with language skills below average for their age, West Somerset also has the lowest social mobility of any local authority area in the UK, coming in at 324th out of 324 bodies in both 2016 and 2017. Is this a coincidence or something else?

There is considerable research closely linking good language skills with doing well at school and having good social skills, both of which are critical factors to improving social mobility. Being offered a place at a good university or employment with good prospects relies on a certain level of competency in language and communication skills. From a survey of schools, employers and politicians, good communication skills are in fact rated as the top/most important employability skills needed for young people entering their first job[1].  And in an employment market with a shrinking number of manual labour jobs, having good communication skills has never been more important.  So it seems that having the skills to understand and  articulate information and ideas is key  to making a difference to social mobility and  critical in enabling children and young people to escape the cycle of social disadvantage.

In West Somerset Opportunity Area I CAN have been working with the Early Years Working Group, made up of operational and strategic leads in Somerset to improve social mobility across the area with one area of focus being early language skills. Research tells us that good language at age 5 is the most important early skill in helping children to escape poverty (Blanden 2006)[2], so it makes sense to make this part of the work that is going on there. Developing a universal offer to both families and early years settings, and a targeted approach for those children who need slightly more support to help them narrow the word gap with their peers, has been key.  

Workforce development is fundamental and ensuring that all early years practitioners have knowledge of typical communication and language development and use strategies and interaction styles to maximise opportunities to develop every child’s skills will lead to change. Identification of speech, language and communication needs at this early stage is also essential if the impacts of having poor communication skills, such as literacy difficulties, behaviour, social and emotional problems, are to be avoided as children progress through school. What’s additionally important is helping staff to embed any training in practice, so providing resources and ongoing support makes a difference to everyday practice.  Long term impact is crucial so looking at ways to ensure learning and changes in practice is sustainable is key.   

One of the ways that settings in West Somerset are tackling the issue of poor language skills is through I CAN Early Talk Boost. This is a targeted intervention for 3-4 year olds with delayed language which, following training, staff can deliver to a group of children during nursery sessions. It includes a workshop for parents, which gives parents skills to share books with their children, another key boost to language development.

Listening and working with families is important to ensure that they know how to support their child’s language development and realise when they are not progressing as they should.

The focus on communication sits alongside other planned interventions including physical literacy and Home Start focused work with families, all of which will work together to give children the best start in life.  Real change takes time and there is much work to be done, implementing new approaches and evaluating impact, but already there is a feeling of optimism in the area and communities that outcomes for children in West Somerset can improve.


[1] Asdan Employability and skills forum (2012) virtual think tank survey results

[2] Blanden J (2006) Bucking the Trend: what enables those who are disadvantaged in childhood to succeed in later life? Dept of work and pensions working paper no 31