TES Article - The Youth Service

The Youth Service - final piece in the jigsaw of comprehensive education.

Below is the text of an article by Doug Nicholls published in the Times Education Supplement on 17th October. It puts the argument for statutory Youth Service funding at this critical time. Branches should feel free to use the points in local discussions with MPs.

When Tony Blair spoke in his address to Labour Party Conference of the inspiring growth in self esteem he had seen in one beneficiary of the New Deal, he glimpsed the raised spirits and capability that youth workers bring about amongst the 600,000 young people who voluntarily participate in local authority youth services every week. As I travel the country observing the work of youth workers I am continually staggered by their ability to transform young people, raise educational standards and encourage awareness of human solidarity - an awareness that ultimately best prevents crime. I have seen professionals work with those youngsters who appear as the unknown statistics - the status zero young people so disconnected from any social and communal responsibility the sociologists can’t get them on their graphs - and within hardly any time motivate them into empowered, articulate, skillful, responsible citizens.

Ministers from several departments are beginning to realise youth workers relate to the young in a unique and sophisticated way, helping make the increasingly long and foggy journey from childhood to adulthood without accidents as no other educationalists or welfare staff can. In fact, George Mudie MP the new Minister responsible sees us as “the vital interface”. He knows youth workers create positive personal and social education experiences and that the contribution this process makes to a range of social inclusion strategies is immense. Youth and community workers on the ground will be the first to bring agencies from police to health trusts together to co ordinate delivery. Frequently the youth worker is the only educationalist the young person trusts sufficiently to explore social re-inclusion, risks, lifestyles and attitudes.

An essential feature of the government’s long term educational and economic strategy has been their focus on young people. Re including the young in civil society is the dominant social policy objective. Given this central objective it is odd that, despite renewed recognition, so far the government has not boosted this service that provides the expert educationalists most committed to this agenda and most able to bring coherence and cost effectiveness to the new youth policies.

The recently published DfEE Audit of the Youth Service demonstrates both the appalling neglect and the massive potential of this service. If we can strengthen its legislative underpinning to be equal to that of schools and increase its resource base by just 200m we will not only be able to cement together a collection of government youth policies and save money, we will reconnect a generation with the social world and love of lifelong learning. Youth volunteering, behavioural support units, youth offender teams, new deal gateways, new start projects, excluded pupil support teams - all of these essential new projects are crying out for qualified youth work skills. What is more CYWU and youth workers are crying out to help. But as the audit reveals, provision is threadbare and patchwork in terms of our infrastructure. Some local authorities face requests for youth service involvement in new government initiatives ten times greater than their existing staffing establishment. Some have one worker left for every 5,000 young people. None have a decent level of provision. Together, in real terms they can spend little more than they did in the sixties.

We are promised a consultation paper on the service by the end of the year in England. This will be too little too late. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, (where youth and community workers have played such a great role beind the agreements for peace and reconciliation), are far further down the line of positioning the Youth Service centrally. We need now an unequivocal commitment by the government to enhance the role of the service in legal and resource terms. An immediate signal to local authorities from the DfEE that part of the 19 billion for education must be spent on the highly value added youth service, must also be given.

The Youth Service originated in the best of nineteenth century Faith, Hope and Charity. Mrs Thatcher reduced it to dependence on Grant, Trust and Lottery. This government needs to reward its most potent ally in the communities and immediately announce new state legislation and funding for the youth service. This would just give us a level playing field on which to kick off. It would also implement explicit Labour Party policy, shared officially of the TUC, the Local Government Association, the voluntary sector and all those in education. The Audit Commission and others have also demonstrated the cost efficiency of youth work. An effective profession, too modest sometimes for its own good, will require an autopsy not an audit unless immediate attention is paid this year. As reforms that brought elementary education and then later comprehensive education developed the culture of Britain beyond all recognition, so a reform in favour of the Youth Service would, at such low cost, transform the system.

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