Plan to bring back a form of 'national service' to heal divided UK

Downing Street is examining an idea to bring back a form of national service, aimed at healing divisions in our society.

But it would be quite unlike conscription during the Second World War and in the 15 years after.

Instead it would mean 14-year-olds spending a month in term time with pupils from other schools and backgrounds, both rich and poor.

They’d be put in teams of 12 to bond on camping and hiking expeditions and would learn new skills to benefit their local communities.

The plan is the brainchild of former government education adviser Jon Yates, who now runs the £200million Youth Endowment Fund.

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18-year old triplets Allan, Brian and Dennis Kirkby reported to North Frith Barracks, Hampshire, following their call-up for National Service - Pictured: 4th February 1953
The new proposed national service would be unlike conscription during the WWII and in the 15 years after

The charity helps children caught in a spiral of knife crime.

The “national service” idea was inspired by Yates’ new book on fixing our fractured society. It is exciting No10 aides, who have ordered copies.

Mr Yates believes 14-year-olds would love to learn new skills.

He said: “One group might make a film of the life stories of elderly residents while another might run after-school sports for younger children.”

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy MP
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said idea ‘diagnoses the deepest divisions in our society and provides urgent manifesto for collective healing’

But the main aim is to get children to mix with people from diverse backgrounds to improve their life chances.

Ex-Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “This country is at its best when people come together.”

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And Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said the idea “diagnoses the deepest divisions in our society and provides an urgent manifesto for collective healing.”

Mr Yates says the Brexit vote was like an X-ray of British society in that it “revealed our fractures”.

A quarter of Remainers and a fifth of Leavers now do not have a single friend who voted the other way. There are 400,000 long-term jobless and half do not know anyone in work.

But research shows unemployed people are 13% more likely to find a job if they have a pal with one.

In his book Fractured: Why our Societies are Coming Apart and How to put them Back Together Again, Mr Yates adds: “Half of us have no friends from a different ethnic group.

“But the greatest division is class.”

Now his idea could break barriers if schools chiefs agree.

The Heads Conference, which represents 296 independent schools, said: “Any changes must be designed in collaboration with schools.”

The Education Department said it had spent £1billion on teen voluntary citizenship programmes in 10 years.

Divided we can’t stand

– Comment, by Jon Yates, head of the Youth Endowment Fund

Most of us want a country where everyone gets a fair chance. It makes us mad that children of the rich snap up the best jobs.

It’s not right a workingclass child gets good grades and still misses out.

But as the saying goes: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

In our divided society, richer kids have networks we can’t access. Now the richest 5% live in a bubble and don’t know what our life is like.

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Our elected leaders are a bubble of middle-class graduates. Thirty years ago a third of Labour MPs were working class. Today just 3% are – and it’s losing the working class vote.

The result is a democracy that isn’t working.


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