A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
The youth sector had its pick of two events to attend in Westminster: a national conference, The Role of Local Authorities in the Future of Youth Services, from Public Policy Exchange; or Inclusion and Specialism: Critical issues in the provision of youth work for disabled young people, a half-day seminar delivered jointly by Partnership for Young London (PYL) and Ofsted.
If colleagues at the former had as much food for thought and good company as I found at the latter – they will have had a rewarding time. OK, I might be accused of bias, having invited along the guest speakers and having chaired the day, but for me the success of the event lay in its style, and the mix of delegates in the room.
The seminar had its origin in ideas that came from both PYL and Ofsted: the topic was on our list for this year’s series of regional events, which had been suggested by delegates at previous events.
Ofsted, having recently completed a survey report on the subject, were keen to test out their findings more fully. The resources that accompany the Ofsted report are published as PowerPoint presentations, and are useful tools to stimulate and focus thinking, whether in small teams or at larger conferences.
The programme came together very quickly: Tony Gallagher, HMI National Lead, Youth Strategy, Ofsted, would introduce the day and highlight the research Ofsted had undertaken and the issues that had arisen, both good points and challenges. Then, two organisations would be asked to examine their own practice and respond to Ofsted’s findings. This was where it could potentially have got tricky: for any organisation, but especially for a local authority, the word ‘Ofsted’ can sound a whole carillon of alarm bells; just how relaxed and voluntary an association is this, and can inspection, criticism and unnecessary adverse publicity be far behind?
Much credit goes to both organisations – the London Borough of Merton and Generate – not only for their willingness to take part, but for the substantial additional effort they put in, their thorough self-assessment and their honesty in sharing their results.
The very specific nature of our event meant that we had a knowledgeable audience drawn principally from two main areas – SEN/Inclusion teams in London boroughs, and specialist voluntary organisations – which matched the origins of two of our presenters. The tone was set from the start: we wanted it to be conversational and relaxed, with people sharing their ideas and feeling confident to ask questions.
There were some common themes from the two case study organisations, particularly about the nature of youth work and social care, and how the two paradigms shape the ways in which professionals interact with young people, and the level of expectations they have of what young people can achieve.
Youth work was not there to act as a replacement for social care input, but should be recognised for the developmental benefits it can bring young people.
On the other hand, youth workers needed to be more aware of techniques that would enable young disabled people to be fully involved in their activities. Merton had successfully trained teaching assistants to work as youth workers on summer schemes. It had taken some time to shift cultural attitudes from being regimented to empowering young people, but it was now working well.
Both organisations also questioned the effectiveness of engagement of parents and siblings, and the extent to which these relationships either supported or hampered the capacity of what young disabled people could achieve through youth work, as well as the needs of, and impact on, families themselves. This was an area that the original Ofsted survey had not explored in any depth. The potential impact of personalised budgets, already in operation in adult care and shortly to be applied to young people, needs to be explored much more.
Another common theme was how effectively young people’s progress was measured – where their needs were more severe, progress was often more apparent and easily recognised both by workers and by the young people themselves. Workers of all kinds needed to be trained to recognise, encourage and record development.
The audience was also challenged on how truly inclusive we were of young disabled people from all local communities, and whether we had thought through the relationship between ethnicity and disability, in particular the needs of different communities. Interesting points were raised about the proportion of young people with disabilities in schools compared to those attending the local authority youth provision. We were reminded of the power and impact of training delivered by young disabled people, and that communication between teams of different specialisms was crucial in helping to make young people’s experiences challenging and worthwhile.
If you think you’re having dejà vu, and that you’ve seen the title Inclusion and Specialism: Critical issues in the provision of youth work for disabled young people somewhere else, you might be right: the programme and format have been adopted by Ofsted for partnership events with some of the other Regional Youth Work Units, including the North East and the South West.
From our experience, we’re confident that if you’re going along you’ll have a good experience, as the event gets you thinking about your practice, about the involvement of young disabled people in youth activities in your region, and what you can do to achieve the right balance of inclusion and specialism for the best outcomes for them.
Helen Hibbert – Partnership for Young London