NCS the Challenge – failed!
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Who Failed the Challenge?

Me, I guess. Let me explain.

The Challenge is one of those semi-charitable organisations that offers 14 – 16 year olds a programme of ‘experiences’ on and off school holidays. For a mere £50, parents can get their troublesome teens off their hands for weeks, knowing that they are safe with experienced teenminders who will give them lots to do and make them feel good about doing it. It’s a feel good thing. Parent/s feel good about kiddies gone and “learning something”; kiddie feels good being in the company of peers having fun; Staff feel good because they’re earning money and having fun with kids. As staff are scarcely out of their teens themselves, it’s a grand opportunity to experience the place between fun and responsibility, where enjoyment and bureaucracy meet.

Everyone wins, right? Except me.

Stupid me! I thought, what fun to get involved with this! What could be better for a hugely experienced retired teacher. Boast time – (no, just the facts:) With 20 years experience of teaching Business and leading the Department. Of introducing and managing Young Enterprise; holding the Teaching Award for Enterprise and numbers of other awards; being a Form Tutor in Sixth Form year after year and helping students reach their aspirations. As a Personal Statement expert, as well as an expert in writing Tutor Statements, references, telephoning Admissions Tutors etc. I am certain many students would not have progressed to uni without my help and intervention. I have of course fulfilled a major pastoral role, helping pupils with personal problems, some of which were extremely serious. Pause for breath. I’ll just add that if the foregoing looks like narcissistic “if it wasn’t for me” Trump style boasting, just ask anybody. Former students especially. Past employers. Numbers of parents and social workers. Sorry,  stay with me. I prefer British style modesty and not boasting but the story really needs you to know me a little bit.

So I really thought NCS would welcome me with open arms and hearts.

And my reason for applying? Boredom with retirement. Missing the kids! Young people refresh and invigorate me. And with my experience, I know I can help many. My particular joy comes from inspiring people who come from very deprived backgrounds because, frankly, I love to change lives. Oh dear, modesty slip. But I have so many ex pupils who have said to me “you have changed my life”, and that’s so damn wonderful. Maybe I just need the boost to my own self-esteem. But I know, in many cases, it’s true.

I applied. Was accepted as an “Enterprise Practitioner”. Was trained.

They love their titles. The hierarchy is a massively complicated Matrix structure, impenetrable and impermeable until one has been in the organisation for a while. They give you this list and diagram in the training of the difference between a Senior Mentor and a Group this and a thingy leader and a whatsis thingamabob deputy assistant bellringer and nappy wiper. And who does what. And who reports to whom. Even the bloke doing the training acknowledged what a jungle it is. The result is a spiderweb of bureaucracy, which no-one but experienced NCS employees or geniuses could navigate. Frankly, far too obtuse for my little mind. But give me the time, and I would work it out.

They call each group a “Wave”. The terminology, like the Hierarchy, requires months of study. So my “Wave” was doing the Team Challenge, and my job, over 3 days, was to introduce this project, teach them about marketing, branding and Social Enterprise, accompany them to the “Community Partner” – an old folks’ community centre, and to produce on Day 2, an “event” for the service users. Damn, I’m using their terminology. If you think, by the way, that the event would be marketing based, using the learning in Day 1, forget it. The Curriculum needs a whole lot of work, that’s for sure. It turned out the “event” was bingo calling, sitting in on a “reminiscences” session, and making the tea. Day 3 was to be “Showcase”, in which all five of the groups would present their “events” for the enjoyment of the whole Wave. It was my group’s job to organise and arrange the whole thing.

Ok, so it could all be much better designed. But of course the kids got a huge benefit out of it; they had to interact and chat to and learn from old people, and let’s face it, all younger people need to do that. (point!). They had to work in teams. They had to come up with creative ideas. To do presentations. All good, very good.

As far as the admin was concerned over the 3 days, I don’t want to make a big point here. Suffice it to say my colleagues referred to it as “a shambles” which, in ways, it was.   Transport was hopelessly disorganised, meaning the kids turned up late or very late at the venue. The Mentors who were supposed to be there in every session were either running about doing bureaucracy, dealing with “issues” on their mobiles most of the time, in one case dealing with her own personal crisis in tears in the lobby. My annoyance as a teacher was that they would frequently come into my room right in the middle of something and pull a kid or kids out, muttering about “issues.” Very disruptive. The Mentor assigned to me hardly ever discussed anything at all, avoiding me when I wanted to share or get her feedback and I concluded she had decided not to like me. What a mess.

I don’t entirely blame her for not liking me. I had made the worst possible decision on what to wear. I had chosen Flash Twit, (thinking, Business and Enterprise) when I should have come as down-with-the-kids. So embarrassing in retrospect. Just the sort of uniform which would have irritated and annoyed me, if I’d been in her position.

Back to Day 1.

There I was with a lovely presentation and resources, at least 8 hours preparation time. The kids loved it. (On Day 3  – dammit, boasting again – in the Showcase I was the only Practitioner thanked by name. Their feedback forms were, I am prepared to bet, all 5’s, where 5 is “excellent”). And one kid stood out immediately.

This young guy (I’ll refer to him as ‘A’) consistently saw through all my Teacher Tricks. You know, when you show them two watches, one big and flash and one small and ask which would they rather have, for example. Expecting everyone to opt for the big fake, rather than the little Cartier. He said, “well, you expect us to choose that one so obviously …” Then in all the group work I thought, gosh, here is a Mind.

Admittedly all the kids were rather special. Mostly middle class from posh schools. Very articulate, self-confident and often charismatic. A pleasure to work with, even though I was wishing for a few more Featherstone style Southall kids with their street sense. (Actually there was one. I’ll call her ‘B’. She reminded me of an occasion when I was covering an English lesson and I helped her understand the Charge of the Light Brigade in the context of the history. She said she would never forget it.)

So off we went in a bus to the Community Partner. The boy, A, sat next to me and a conversation flowed. So intelligent! So well-read! I was immediately plunged back in time to when I first encountered V, an amazing young man from a very deprived background with a fabulous mind who has become a putative adopted son. V is now at  a Russell Group Uni studying PPE, an outcome which would have been incredible six years ago when I met him. To what extent can I take credit for that? I put it down to his exceptional qualities. I was merely a facilitator. (See? I can do modesty.)

So there’s A and me in a bus talking politics, philosophy, life. Gosh! And when I realise how bright and aware he is, I recommend PPE Russell Group because it seems his results for GCSE will get him there – although I did make the point forcefully that A-Level results have to be excellent. He could even be an Oxbridge candidate. He had never considered PPE before, largely because he did’t know what it is. So promised to research it.

The next  day he had done the research and was full of enthusiasm for this new life course. So whenever we used busses, he would seek to sit next to me to discuss not just this new life plan, but Economics, politics, philosophy…I admit to feeling just a little uncomfortable, as I felt I was ignoring the others and it would look just a little wrong. However, I assumed my colleagues would understand and above all, would trust me as an elderly professional with the highest standards of probity…you can see where this is going.

And that evening, yeh, I got the call. A fellow somewhere up the tangle of the hierarchy introduced himself and told me there was “an issue.” My heart sank. “Tell me,” he said, “is it true you asked someone for a young person’s contact details?”

Paranoia set in. Naturally I assumed that the Mentor, who was giving off serious antipathy signals, had decided to attack by saying I had asked her for A’s contact details. Furious, I leapt to the attack. Defended, denied, challenged. Somewhat mollified, the fellow said he would discuss the matter and my response with someone even further up the hierarchy.

Fuming, I settled or tried to settle into watching TV. But could not. And called him again. “Look, if there has been an accusation against me,” I said, “It’s only fair to tell me which member of staff it is. Frankly I don’t see myself working with someone who would lie about me.” thinking, if it’s that Mentor, I would refuse to continue.

“Oh no, ” he said, “It was the young person.” It was A. Apparently, he had said (probably to the antipathetic mentor) that I had changed his life, he was so happy, and I had even offered my email address so he could stay in contact.

“What!” I said, genuinely bemused, “I did no such thing! If you think I’m some kind of predatory paedophile I’m outta here.” Implying straight to the lawyer’s.

Well, he asked me to please come the next day to complete the Wave. And in bed that night, unable to sleep, I thought – well perhaps  I said, in an unguarded moment, “Maybe I’ll give you my email so you can let me know how you got on”. Why wouldn’t I say that? Stupidity!!!! Wrong!!!! I suppose it just came out of my curiosity to see if he would actually go down the PPE path and my hope he would be successful. Maybe when I said this I was just trying to make him feel good and I wouldn’t actually have done it.

I don’t know. I do tend to say things without sufficient thinking. Mouth engages before brain switched on.

I wrote a statement setting all this out and delivered it to the person running the wave the next day, who sent it on to S, the blokie. Who sent it on to his boss. Who no doubt sent it on to his boss, then the next boss, then on to hundreds in the hierarchy.

So Day 3. The horrendous disorganisation of transport meant that the kids, due to arrive around 9.30, came to the venue well after 11, giving little time to prepare the Showcase. But we did it! The Mentor poked her nose in sufficiently to be of some help. The Boss came in with totally contradictory resources to confuse the kids, but we managed our way around that. The kids were superb. Whatever the failings of the adults, they ran with the project and just managed to do everything on time. Had we had more time, the result would have been better but what the hell.

Last boast: Remember that Featherstone girl? Before Showcase she admitted to me that she was terrified to do the presentation. Well, I have been faced with this so many times in Young Enterprise when a student loses confidence and could easily fall apart. So I used all the techniques I have developed for this situation. Ending with “You can do this – for FHS and for me! Just look straight at me and just do it.” So she did. And afterwards, tears in her eyes, thanked me. That’s what I live for. THOSE moments.

So my score at the end of the three days: two lives changed irrevocably, and others, possibly. For sure they will never forget me.

That evening, blokie telephoned me to say that I was fired. I would not be allowed to do the next Wave (that Monday!) or, probably, ever again. Of course I protested, pointing out that I had NOT supplied any young person with my email address; that having been reprimanded I had assumed the matter was closed; that obviously I would take this rule on board and never provide contact details. “Your loss,” I concluded.

And it is. Last boast. And all this despite a detailed feedback I had sent, analysing all the ways that the chaos had happened in the running of the three days and in each case giving considered recommendations for improvements. I sent this to the boss and the boss’ boss and received a brief acknowledgment and a promise to get back to me some time. I did make the point that if there is any suggestion of impropriety on my part, or possible hidden motives, or anything impugning my integrity, I would take the matter to a solicitor.

So they lose. So do I. And so does A, though all I can hope is they would not have poisoned him against me by lying about my motive, or his future plans will be impacted.

I was certainly wrong to have offered or nearly offered my email address to a pupil. In the context of the paranoia in these circles, the fact is that there are predatory paedophiles about. The fact that these people don’t know me and that I can be trusted is irrelevant; their rules have to be made for the worst case scenario. It really is mad. But surely they are overreacting? After all, my bona fides are impeccable. And I hate pred paeds as much as any sensible intelligent father/grandfather. I have even helped to identify two in my career and assisted in getting them fired.

OK. So, just as I gave recommendations in my feedback to NCS, here are some practical (if expensive) ideas.

LOOK, it is of critical importance the predatory paedophiles are not allowed access to our young people. But how can we make sure? The CRB/DBS is inadequate for this purpose. A criminal records check only reveals whether someone has been convicted of a crime. Many predatory paedophiles haven’t been caught – and as a result of the failings of this system there is a culture of purest paranoia and massive bureaucracy surrounding what is called “Safeguarding.” Every person involved with young people is under continual scrutiny, terrified of putting a foot wrong and even the most innocent of events do not take into account the individuals involved, as in my case.

This is rubbish.

There is one damn good place to trap paedos. Online.

LOOK: peados have computers full of child porn; they have subscriptions to dodgy websites; they are members of groups on Social Media. An intelligent sophisticated search through their computers and mobiles would probably identify a very high percentage of offenders or potential offenders. SURELY no-one who hasn’t submitted at least a sample of their online presence or hard disk for scrutiny should be allowed access to children? I can happily say that I would have no objection to anybody seeing everything I have or everywhere I’ve been. Why should I? The person who has nothing to hide is the person I would trust with my (3) grandchildren. And if there is reason for suspicion, the person’s home needs to be searched. Draconian, I know. But kids must be protected.

I understand why most people would resist this idea. Married people who have gone onto dating websites, or viewed adult porn. Or have indulged in any of the bad things you can do on the internet which are perfectly legal. So absolute confidentiality would have to be built into the system.

If this were implemented it would definitely put many Bad People off even applying for access to our precious youngsters. We would apprehend people who represent a danger. And I would be able to work for an organisation like NCS and continue to benefit students with my knowledge and experience….

So bye bye NCS. It was fun!



  • You said yourself your an experienced elderly Teacher. With more experience and you made them feel too challenged for their own good. And the whole of the Human race seems to have turned on any humans that try to help children just because they genuinely care.
    The younger folk saw you as a threat to their own competence. And no matter how old we get all our life lessons seem to get harder. This is a hard one for you Jon.
    Best wishes Jenny

    • Thanks for that – by the younger people I presume you mean those running the organisation. Yes, they are terribly stressed all the time. They really should be letting older, wiser heads run the show so that a bit of common sense and sanity can be brought into it,

  • Your right, everyone in child care is always worried about these situations, while coaching in a primary school, (loved the job by the way), kids would often run to me and colleagues and give hugs. While we try to avoid it, kids won’t. and it puts us in awkward moments. They teach fear! and stop natural actions.
    In your case, the company should provide email addresses & should keep in touch with these students, how else will they know they are doing the right thing. its also gives the students something to work for, they more friends/teachers they to talk to and learn from the better. they could also come back and help when they become older.
    They company may live on short term basis not realising they are working with and raising young people which is a much longer commitment.

    • Thank you Rajjan, I agree that by keeping in contact with you and many other students I could help you with many of the tricky situations you face as an adult. However, we must bear in mind that there ARE some predatory paedophiles and we have to do everything we can to keep them away from kids. I don’t really blame them for being over-the top with there precautions – but I really feel they totally overreacted in my case, and should have looked into my motives and past before making their stupid decision.

  • Well I’m sure A is doing fine. He’s probably still considering PPE very strongly. And by the sounds of it, he is far too smart to let these people even try and manipulate his view of you.
    And I’m sure that he told his mentors about the situation with glee and excitement about the opportunities, and not in a complaint or reportive way.

    I’d also have to agree with you. By the sounds of it, this NCS thing sounds pretty crap.

    It’s kinda like how similar Achilles is to superman, but Achilles seems real, when superman is entirely unrealistic, you know?

    • Thank you great king! I know A is too smart to let ants nibble his ankles. (Even Myrmidons).I also know he did not make a complaint or report. Too smart for that too. And I know he will be a success in everything he wants to do because he will put his heart into it. And Achilles is real.

  • This is V from the story. As I mentioned so many times before, at school you changed the lives of hundreds of students. And definitely did for me too. As you said, ‘their loss.’ The beuracracy of the system is insane – sometimes they let sex with a mentor slide (as they did on my NCS) and sometimes they misinterpret and undermine the generosity and care of an excellent teacher. It happens but it must be resolved! It’s happening at my ICS placement in Ghana and I can’t stand it…

    • Thanks for commenting V. What you are saying is very serious, not to mention shocking. I implore you to report any inappropriate behaviour to someone in a position of authority over the people concerned. If they are not prepared to take action, please get some evidence and when you return to the UK I will help you get something done.

  • Just for the record – forget them! Mr E you were the reason I went to university – you said it would be the best years of my life and you were right. You continually inspired and motivated all of us at LMS whether we were on your GCSE class or not. I repeat – forget them! Rayne

  • It does appear to me from what you said, that are clear management issues at NCS. Perhaps it’s better this way, you can always find ways to work with the younger generations via flexible organisations. With the skills you have, you’d be snatched up in no time.

    You already know the difference you have made to my life Sensei. Bringing in the level of confidence needed for general life and learning how to deal with stressful situations, is something that you have thought me from the start.

    This was despite the fact that I was never in your form or in your business class. You were my Sensei for Bushido, and I thank you for that.

    You also gave me huge life lesson to never underestimate the older generation (notice I said older, not old), for a huge bank of wisdom and experience.

    Look forward to meeting you soon 🙂

  • V – We take safeguarding allegations extremely seriously. We need to follow up on this with you please. It will be treated sensitively, but is vital that we investigate. Can I ask that you call 0203 542 2400. Please ask to speak to Rachel Slade – Head of Delivery Operations for NCS.

      • However, beware of false allegations. Having experienced an imputation, if not an allegation, I realise how painful and harmful that could be. Teachers live under this terrifying sword of Damocles all the time. The fact is one is guilty until proven innocent and there have certainly been some terrible stories in this regard. The distance from paragon to pariah is a hair’s breadth. All it takes is suspicion, or an unguarded comment, or a kid with a grudge. Organisations have a duty of care for their staff, as well as their pupils. If there are allegations, for the sake of the teacher and the pupil all parties need to be interviewed immediately by objective, experienced people with compassion and care. The damage that can be done to a young person by abuse is huge, and can be compounded by tactless investigations. The teacher’s career can be irretrievable damaged, even if entirely innocent. Not just their career – their entire personal and emotional lives. This little incident, while I was initially simply surprised and amused, began to sink into my life to the extent that I wrote the above. Since then, sleep evades me and depression looms.I need to delete all my posts on this as soon as I have had some satisfaction from the organisation which has caused the problem, so that I can move on. As yet, all they have told me is it is “being considered” and that is entirely unacceptable. My Union has been very supportive, and thank goodness. It’s very reassuring.

        Imagine this: people thinking “there is no smoke without fire.” Just think of the damage that can do. Listen to me: There is NO smoke. There is just steam, arising from people making a fuss about very little. If you know me, you know this is so.

        I need to start a group, a charity called FA, or False Allegations. Because that’s what they are, so often.f….all. Victims can share their stories, publicise them and resist the paranoia which causes so much misery.

        Meanwhile, PLEASE catch and imprison real paedophiles! I have seen the damage they wreak, and there can be no forgiveness for real perpetrators. If you have actual evidence, please inform someone who will handle that evidence with sensitivity, compassion, efficiency and care.

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