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Rearguard action

Will the Government's cadet plan to motivate Britain's youth be a winner? TES reporters scoured past and present for clues. As the British move towards a militarisitic model for inculcating discipline in young people, the Continent seeks social programmes to replace national service, writes Frances Rafferty.

The European Union's version, albeit for an older age group of 18 to 25, is the European voluntary service for young people. This allows volunteers to spend between six months and a year in another EU country, plus Norway and Iceland, taking part in social and cultural projects.

A Commission spokesman said: "It is supposed to be a learning experience. As well as working in another country they will be expected to take responsibility for a programme within a community."

France, the Netherlands and Belgium have all recently put an end to national service. The Commission is at pains to say the volunteer scheme is not a direct replacement, but acknowledges that it is a recognition of the problem of youth unemployment and crime.

The first pilots started last year and the programme aims to be Europe-wide from next year to 2002. These pilots include youngsters helping handicapped students at Barcelona University, the renovation of historical buildings, refurbishment of youth centres and creation of cycle paths. One group is monitoring dolphins and whales in the Mediterranean.

Another proposal for secondary school-aged children, has been suggested for the UK by Roy Perry, Conservative MEP for Wight and Hampshire. He says the school day should start at 7.30. Formal lessons would end at 1.30 and the rest of the day would be devoted to physical recreation and competitive sport.

He said: "Children would become more physically fit, and by starting earlier would have to go to bed earlier cutting down on time available for non-productive pursuits. This would mean fewer children on the streets and a reduction in crime."

Mr Perry believes the European youth volunteer service could provide funds towards sports. His proposals are being considered by Sir Colin Cowdray, chairman of the Prime Minister's panel responsible for promoting sport.

Extending the school day is gaining currency among Conservative policy makers and could be a part of the party's election manifesto.

More information can be obtained from Youth Exchange Centre, The British Council, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN

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