Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

Laws, Timpson or Truss – does it make a difference?

As I write, we are still waiting to hear how the Ministerial responsibilities will be distributed at DfE after the government ‘shuffle’. We don’t yet know who will be in charge of policy for young people, part of the brief previously held by Tim Loughton. A significant question, I suppose, is ‘does it matter?’.

After all, the Government is the Government, right? And they have policy priorities, right? And it’s clear that the priority for the Department for Education is restructuring the way schools are managed, what is taught and how it is examined. Work with young people outside of formal education is rarely a major policy priority. So does it make a difference whether David Laws, Edward Timpson or Liz Truss ends up being the lead for work with young people?

In the last decade or so we have had more Ministers with the ‘youth’ brief than I can actually remember. Few of them have made much impact, or been there long enough to introduce a significant initiative or policy shift. Often this junior ministership has simply been a stopping off point on the way to more senior roles in other departments, and with a few honourable exceptions – including the outgoing Minister, Tim Loughton, Ministers rarely develop more than a passing understanding of what happens in work with young people.

So will a new Minister make a difference? Policy-wise, s/he will pick up an overall framework in the shape of ‘Positive for Youth’, and the newly revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities on services to promote young people’s well-being. Tim Loughton was determined that young people should have strong voices in shaping services and policies, not just for youth services, but in wider policy on issues that affect their lives, including transport and education options.

Young people from the South West have been actively involved in discussions with Ministers and civil servants, making the case for reduced fares and better services in public transport to enable young people to participate in education, employment and wider activities. I hope these forums are now sufficiently established to carry on without their ministerial champion, though I know that British Youth Council and other youth organisations, including the Network of Regional Youth Work Units will do their utmost to ensure that young people’s voice vehicles, locally, regionally and nationally continue to grow and be effective.

It takes time to develop sufficient understanding of a sector to be able to design a sensible policy framework. The youth sector is probably one of the more complex sectors, with lots of different, and sometimes competing, voices from organisations, young people and the professionals who work with them.

I hope the new Minister, whoever it is, is able to take that time and get to know this vibrant, positive and challenging sector, and understand how the work we do makes a difference in young people’s lives. Regional Youth Work Units will be happy to provide opportunities for the new Ministerial team to meet groups of young people, youth workers and youth organisations, learn about what they are doing, and engage them in debate.

Gill Millar

South West Regional Youth Work Unit

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One comment on “Laws, Timpson or Truss – does it make a difference?

  1. John Thurlbeck
    September 26, 2012

    Gill you make a really great point – “Does it really matter?” My belief is that it should; unfortunately my experience too is that it doesn’t! However it is not just the politicians that are at fault here, whoever takes on this role.

    I’d argue that historically and currently we need to look to the leadership of the youth sector – professionally, organisationally and academically [and I count myself in this given my time in Sunderland, Manchester and at APYCO] – who, over a long period of time, have singularly failed to convince sequential key stakeholders that youth work works. As a case in point, witness the volumes of evidence to the recent Select Committee. Never have I seen the rich yet highly competitive diversity of our sector so broadly portrayed. I know as you do that youth work works. I have lived and breathed it for nearly four decades and my passion for it has never dimmed and that is shared by thousands of others, volunteers and paid staff, across this nation of ours.

    So why is it that now we have the Young Foundation trailing their Outcomes Framework for youth services, not youth work exclusively, wherever across the land, explaining little that we shouldn’t already know, but trying, in part, to respond to a deep-felt Government criticism that “… many services are unable or unwilling to measure the improvements they make in outcomes for young people.” That the Government feels “… the lack of a common measurement framework across the sector makes it extremely difficult for authorities to decide which services to fund” and that services should be able to “demonstrate what difference they make to young people.” And finally “… agreement is needed on a common set of standards.”

    Bernard Davies could far more eloquently enumerate the times we have had opportunities to do exactly this [and I can go back to the Thompson and Milson-Fairbairn Reports] but even in recent history we have had Transforming Youth Work and Resourcing Excellent Youth Services. I draw the line at ‘Positive for Youth’ because it is more a collection of initiatives than a real policy agenda or framework.

    So what gets in the way of taking those opportunities? I return to my point about leadership. I believe it has been and remains fragmented, divisive, territorial and competitive. Which is a great shame as the richness and diversity of the broad youth offer in this country is immense, with a strong and proud heritage from both statutory and third sectors. Unfortunately this richness and diversity is also its Achilles heel, providing endless opportunity for dissent, disagreement and indecision, more often focused on adult agendas and personalities than on the young people who are purportedly the focus of the work. Maybe it will always be so … but at what price for young people now and for the future?

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This entry was posted on September 7, 2012 by in Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West and tagged , , , .
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