NUT Social Exclusion Conference

Notes from a Speech to the special Conference of the National Union of Teachers on Social Exclusion.

(Asked to speak on interagency work practice and policy).

Education Union unity.


Just to prove that despite CYWU’s long partnership with NUT I am even handed, I did write to the ATL and NAS/UWT suggesting that we meet to discuss the role of the youth service and its contribution to the new social inclusion agenda. Unfortunately I have not had a response, but it does remind me of the fact that we shouldn’t always look outwards to complain about structures of exclusion. From CYWU’s perspective the bringing together of the teacher unions into one united force for teaching would make a major contribution to the social inclusion agenda and help bring coherence to policy formation and organisation. It may also help get a more consistent approach to matters relating to behaviour and Personal and Social Education. Actually CYWU goes further and believes in the formation of one education union for the whole country with federated sections for the different specialisms from pre school to postgraduate research.

Let me first ask who here has received a professional qualification in interagency working ? Only one person, (of about 250) I bet you are a youth worker, I’ll come back to that later.

Including play, youth and community.

Also in relation to this subject we need to look at the phrases we use. Normally it is “schools, colleges and universities.” We will have lost the significance of interagency collaboration to tackle social inclusion unless the phrase becomes “schools, colleges, universities and youth, play and community work”. In the continuum of the education agenda all parts must be included and learning beyond the classroom is a vital part of strengthening the classroom and active citizenship. This element of the education system has been massively overlooked.

Inclusive profession.

We are very proud in youth, community and play work of what we have done to contribute to social inclusion in the professional formation of youth and community work as an occupation. The peer led endorsement structure which provides significant influence by practitioners over the training and qualifications has enabled us to incorporate equal opportunities considerations when considering recruitment and selection to the courses and when considering the nature of the curriculum. One result of this has been a profession with a very high percentage of women and black and working class students and practitioners. Another has been that anti oppressive practice is an integral part of the training and delivery. Another has been that youth participation is a professional curriculum area. These advances are threatened by a current fad for competence based assessment and the behavioural psychology that goes with it.

Interagency work under pressure.

Returning also to the question of interagency collaboration, youth and community workers are unique in that they are the only group of professionals I am aware of who have this element built into their training courses as a requirement, into their job descriptions and into their national grading structure under the Joint Negotiating Report for Youth and Community Workers - the JNC. Hardly surprising then that some want to get rid of the JNC Report and work now to define so called occupational standards in this sector conspicuously excludes interagency work !

More needed.

Walking here down the beautiful Victorian Dukes Road you cannot help but think of Dickens and his great book with the best line in English literature: “Please, Sir, I want some more.” The Youth Service has consistently had to adopt the Oliver Twist position and although Dickens wrote in the 1830s there are three aspects of policy still connected with his book. Firstly, all the statistics demonstrate that young people leaving care are the most vulnerable and liable to become the most excluded. This should not be so as the Children Act introduced a very necessary requirement to provide young people with a professional who, in the terms of the act could “advise,befriend and counsel them”. Such words are familiar in youth workers job descriptions. But there has been no such provision at any meaningful scale.

Problem at least recognised.

Secondly if we look back over the 150 years since Dickens wrote Oliver Twist there is a clear, although relative, persistence of urban and rural disfunction which disrupts the transition to adulthood for so many. I returned to the area where I used to be a youth worker for some action research for this contribution to find out what had happened to the young people I worked with in the mid nineteen eighties. It is an area that has been subject to every major urban neighbourhood renewal scheme since the second world war. The group of young lads I worked with were social excluded from education, training and employment in the early eighties. Of six of them I could trace 2 were dead from drugs overdoses, two had been killed in drugs related gunfights and 2 were missing presumed homeless in London. When many of us warned the Tories in the early eighties that a new category of alienated young person had been created they refused to listen. Now at least we have a recognition of the problem. No amount of interagency work incidentally, could address the situation for the young men I worked with, the only thing that came near to working was the friendship and guidance offered to them by skilled youth workers who could deal with the full range of emotional, intellectual and welfare concerns which needed to be addressed even before they could find work.

Thirdly, there has of course been a long lineage of Christian philanthropic intervention in youth policy, rescuing the young from destitution and risk. This underpins much of the current thinking and goes back to the Church of England’s Faith in the City document and of course to the Labour Party’s Commission on Social Justice. We note that in this tradition there is a creative tension at least between moral and economic engineering.

Policy speed.

It is impossible to write down a speech at the moment because hardly is the ink dry than a new policy document emerges from the Social Exclusion Unit which is driving most of the youth policy development. It is almost as if we have gone from years of neglect to a sudden profusion, almost a bloating of documents and suggestions. It is like confusion marketing. There are lots of choices, but you are never quite sure what product works best. Joined up thinking is OK if the thinking is legible in the first place. I understand that the Social Exclusion Unit is concerned about the welter of initiatives and is now going to produce an integrating, overarching kind of statement before Christmas. We’ll see.

Interregnum.

For the Youth Service it is a time of interregnum. Everyone has said to the government there should be a statutory Youth Service, a clear funding stream, a building on strengths, but Westminster and Whitehall have gone quite. At this stage it looks as though the majority has not been listened to and we will get a weakening of the already weak legislation. There’s a kind of Dickensian fog around. In fact if you placed all government education initiatives on separate pieces of tracing paper and piled them on top of each other there would only be one clear space, that concerning the Youth Service. It is the only aspect of education they have totally neglected financially and politically. It is also the only area they have not drawn experts and professionals from in most of their policy formation. The Youth Service let me remind us involves according to the HMI five million young people at any one time.

Government machine broken ?

Similarly there is a decided lack of interagency collaboration at the level of the machinery of government. Our union organises three related professional groups, youth workers, play workers, and community workers. Play is organised by the Department of Culture and National Heritage and its lead body is within the Sport and Recreational Industrial Training Organisation. Community work is under the aegis of the Home Office as is juvenile justice which is moving more and more into the crime preventative youth work field. Then there is youth work in the DfEE through a Youth Service Unit which has been depleted from 16 Civil Servants a couple of years ago to two now with part responsibility for the Youth Service. While of course the Cabinet Office through the Social Exclusion Unit is running youth policy.

The government inconsistencies do not reflect the reality on the ground where play workers, teachers, youth workers, social workers, childrens’ and play workers, probation workers, education welfare workers, education psychologists, health education workers, and community workers are continuing their professional collaboration.

It is also the case that England is falling behind. In Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland there is much more of a recognition of the role of non formal learning and new requirements on local authorities to make integrated community learning provision.

I was part of a pre election Labour Party task group which made some comprehensive recommendations about the future of government machinery and policy infrastructure, legislation and funding for young people. The papers appear to have got lost.

Youth Service Socially excluded.

Just a reminder too on how the Youth Service is socially excluded. There is no reference to the Youth Service in Education Statute or funding guidance in England. There is in Northern Ireland and colleagues in Wales have been asked by the Assembly to propose new funding definitions. The Service has also aspired to be generic and universally available, but as it has become marginalised in budget rounds, it has increasingly targeted ‘problem groups’ rather than offering relationships and opportunities which young people can choose to be involved with regardless of their circumstances.

Professional integrity.

Professional integrity is often in my experience the glue that binds successful interagency work together. When our union was formed in this building in 1938 the ten women workers who formed it said that a separate profession of youth work needed to be defined, it needed separate training to provide qualification in it, it then needed separate terms and conditions to convey proper status to the work and value the distinctive professional contribution of the staff involved. The profession gained recognition and respect largely through the work of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Youth and Community workers established in 1961. This brought together a positive social partnership of local authorities, voluntary bodies and unions to define a reward a profession that established a unique relationship with young people, neither teaching nor social work, insipid recreational associationism nor control. Surprising then at a time when we desparately need highly skilled professionals to draw strengths and inspiration and skills and esteem out of young people puzzled by their lack of opportunities and esteem to see a direct employers attack on the JNC report which is custodian of the skills. Even stranger a potential dilution of the professional interventions of the work by the creation of so called national standards, which are really no more than free floating partial descriptions of bits of the work, and which pave the way for the ‘anyone can do it’ ridicules of NVQs (already written by the way).

Breaking professional barriers not professions.

Youth and community workers have been breakers of professional barriers par excellence in the service of young people, but we are not going to have our profession broken by youth brokers. Interagency work does not mean breaking the different professional interventions, it means enhancing them. Mentors, possibly, personal advisers, possibly, but all research shows that these have limited roles which only work well when integrated within an overarching infrastructure and strategy of support for young people. Youth workers build relationships out of non compulsory contact, others work with them to help signpost and support in a compulsory way to meet external statistical objectives. Signposts without maps and directions are frankly a waste of money. We are extremely worried about the unclear models of personal advisers currently being considered.

We also believe that in order not to further stretch teachers and misunderstand the role of youth workers, there should be a youth worker, professionally qualified on every school team at head of department level. Perhaps you will want to join us in making this call.

Young people’s rights and entitlements.

Our Union also believes that the question of young people’s rights is also germane to the debate. If you want to include young people currently excluded meaningfully why not as our union and the TUC say, give them the vote at 16 ? At sixteen you can join the army, get a job, join political parties, pay tax and national insurance, have consenting heterosexual sex, get married and play your role. Yet you cannot vote until you are 18 and cannot stand for election until you are 21. The general chaos of various ages of entitlement will need to be carefully examined when considering the question of social exclusion. The trade unions in education have a lead role to play in this.

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