A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Today I received an update from Ofsted, highlighting the publication of their Annual Report. While I have not yet had time to read it in detail, I was struck by some of the observations of Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, which resonated strongly with what we are trying to achieve for the youth sector.
Sir Michael Wilshaw was especially clear about the importance of leadership in creating and maintaining successful outcomes, and while he was referring particularly to the education sector, it is undoubtedly true of the youth sector, too, at a number of levels.
Clearly, within all parts of our sector we need strong leadership to maintain a focus on the young people at the heart of our work – whose role can sometimes be relegated in the drive to secure services and promote organisational survival. We need strong leaders who will not be overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the current environment, in which services for young people are increasingly in danger of being marginalised in favour of those with more statutory responsibilities and thus more telling budgetary demands.
Today’s leaders need more than ever to be able to scan the horizon and shape services that meet young people’s needs in new ways and with different partners, funded creatively and sustainably. One of the things that struck us in London, when we did the research for the Future Models for Youth report (featured in my October blog) was the foresight and adaptability of Heads of Service; we asked ‘The youth sector is clearly creative and innovative: how can that be enhanced and maximised?’ and we hope that the Association of London Directors of Children’s Services, for whom we wrote the report, will rise to that challenge, for we need the support of leadership at all levels to keep youth high on the agenda.
Tellingly, that report was produced as part of the Leaders for London programme, which has been helping to train and build a network of potential leaders across children’s services, and is now into its fourth cohort. This focus on local leadership has been useful, educative and rewarding, and has an eye to capacity-building the sector not only now but for the future.
Another feature of the Ofsted annual report that caught my eye was the statement that ‘Ofsted is committed to supporting improvement and raising standards for every child and every learner – particularly those in the most disadvantaged areas.’
No surprise there, obviously – but it’s good to hear that message spelled out, not simply for its own sake but because with very little tweaking it could be true of all of us working in the youth sector, surely? It’s certainly true of the Regional Youth Work Units, with our commitment to sector-led improvement, increasing the capacity and skills of its organisations to improve outcomes for (and with) young people. Sometimes it’s good to step back from the detail of the day job and be re-inspired and re-energised by our mission and vision.
For me, however, perhaps the most significant aspect of Ofsted’s annual report was the almost throw-away line towards the end: ‘Our new regional structure will contribute to improving the system by gaining a better understanding of the provision across the country. This means Ofsted will not only provide independent evaluation of progress, but will also do more to spread good practice.’ It’s reassuring to find a national body recognising what we in the Regional Youth Work Units have, unsurprisingly, known and been driven by, for years: that a regional focus has a crucial role to play in driving up standards, sharing learning and having an impartial overview of the landscape. This role has been diminished by successive governments, withdrawing regional funding, removing regional support structures and focusing almost entirely on local and national.
And yet, throughout this, the Regional Youth Work Units, and the few remaining regional teams within national organisations, have never been more necessary or more valued; they have continued to find innovative ways to survive as the funding environment becomes more hostile; and they remain focused on the future, with their distinctive capacity to network organisations and bring the workforce together to do what they do better. They can be – and are – responsive to the needs of their regional constituents; they adapt to deliver support in new ways, and with new audiences; they look to new partners to work with into the future.
Regional and national organisations need to work more closely together, maximising their capacity to disseminate practice, to amplify their voice, to innovate and to support young people and those who work with them. National government needs to recognise that driving improvement locally can also be effectively facilitated by a regional approach; and funders should revisit their strategies, to acknowledge the unique contribution that regional players make to achieving the ambition of improving outcomes for every child and young person.
Partnership for Young London