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Our schools don’t prepare young people for life. National service could change that | Simon Jenkins

Forget the military, but working under supervision in the NHS, care sector or for a charity could be hugely beneficial for many

Rishi Sunak’s reinvention of national service is a desperate, last-minute election gimmick. But that does not make it a bad idea. If there is one phase in education across Britain that is way off course, it is the higher teens. Sixth-form, higher and further education are deeply reactionary, more plagued than ever by introverted academic syllabuses and obsessive testing. For decades it has eluded progressive reform.

Sunak’s idea of a year’s military training would be a costly waste. The army has said it does not want amateur conscripts. The defence of Britain against improbable attack requires highly skilled operatives, not trench-war cannon fodder. By all means recruit more of them, but polls show that barely 10% of young people would volunteer for war service and a third would resist formal conscription. Under Sunak’s plan, an overwhelming majority would choose the civilian alternative of spending one weekend a month for a year in a public or charitable service. Germany’s non-military alternative to national service – both it and military conscription were abolished in 2011 – was hugely popular.

Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist

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