By Rachel Quigley
David Cameron will today launch a national citizen service that will see hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds sent on summer camps at a cost of up to £1,400 each.
The £50million scheme aims to get a disaffected generation of teenagers from different racial and social backgrounds to join in local community activities.
The Prime Minister will announce that 10,000 school leavers will be able to take part in a summer volunteering programme from next year.
Placements, mainly with charities and social enterprises, will last about seven or eight weeks and are targeted at those just completing their GCSE exams.
A two-month pilot involving 500 teenagers is already under way. It includes a three-week course which is made up of seven days on outdoor challenges, seven days study at a university campus and the final week at home, culminating in a graduation ceremony and a ‘milk round’ attended by voluntary groups.
Craig Morley, chief executive of the Challenge Network, which is running the programme in London and Birmingham, said that the aim was to foster understanding across social and racial divides to ‘mark a rite of passage’ into adulthood by engaging people with their own communities.
The idea was endorsed during the general election campaign by veteran actor Sir Michael Caine.
Initially Mr Cameron had wanted to set up a compulsory scheme for all school leavers to emulate a 21st century military service.
But he was persuaded to stick to a voluntary scheme after advice from youth organisations.
At a Downing Street reception today he will invite a number of organisations to get involved in the scheme and will announce a first phase of up to 10,000 youngsters next year followed by 30,000 the year after.
A document on the national citizen service published during the election campaign suggested a start-up cost of £13million in their first year from April 2011, followed by £37million in the second year for 30,000 to 40,000 young people.
It made clear that the aim was for all 16-year-olds to participate in the long term.