Here we outline the main proposals of the new English ‘Green Paper for youth’ – Youth Matters – and highlight some of the key issues and problems arising from it. These include a continuing attack on the civil rights of young people.
contents: introduction · the making of the green paper for youth? · youth matters the green paper for youth – main proposals · youth matters – some issues · conclusion · further reading and bibliography · links · how to cite this article
The English Green Paper for Youth (Youth Matters) – which was initially expected to be published in November 2004, and then rescheduled for March, finally appeared on July 18, 2005. The shape of the proposals had been heavily trailed. They had to be accommodated within a framework provided by established children’s policy (largely articulated within Every Child Matters DfES 2003); the extended schools policy (DfES 2005b); and continuing concern among new Labour politicians to appear ‘tough on crime’ and to contain the supposedly ‘yobbish’ behaviour of a significant number of young people.
In this piece we outline the main proposals of Youth Matters (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters]) and explore some of the key issues and problems that arise.
The making of Youth Matters – the green paper for youth
The decision to produce a Green Paper for Youth was made against the background of four dynamics. These were:
- a growing recognition of failures in the Connexions Service;
- problems around perceived quality in state-sponsored youth services;
- the development of children’s and youth policy – in particular the formulation of policy following Every Child Matters (DfES 2003) and extended schooling, and the emergence of initiatives around ‘yobbish’ behaviour – meant that existing arrangements didn’t make sense; and
- a desire to push ahead with the remodelling of public services and workforce reform. (All of these are discussed in a separate background briefing)
The process of producing Youth Matters was shot through with tensions. Work on different elements of the Green Paper for Youth took place in three separate working groups – two in the Department of Education and Skills (on advice and guidance, and on work with those ‘not in employment, education and training’ (NEET); and one in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Office (around more general provision for young people – the ‘places to go, things to do’ element). There were debates around how to organize services for young people within the Children’s Trust framework (and discussions about whether the Connexions brand should be retained, the desirability of a separate careers organization along the lines of Careers Scotland and Careers Wales, the place of extended schooling, and whether there was a continuing need for a youth service). There also appears to have been some questions about how workforce remodelling could be achieved; how far it should be pushed; and what was the role of specialism?. Beyond all this the making of Youth Matters involved arguments between those holding rather different views of the place of education and welfare systems – in particular between those seeking to enhance social capital and those wanting to extend market philosophy (and in particular to recast young people more strongly as consumers). Lastly, there was a basic problem: the vast bulk of youth work is provided by voluntary organizations who are rightly anxious to safeguard their work and autonomy (many being members of religious and social movements) and who take little or no state money. They were not susceptible to the usual policy levers (all discussed in the background briefing on the green paper for youth). Many of these tensions were reflected in the final version of Youth Matters – if only by omission.
Youth Matters – the Green Paper for Youth main proposals
Over the seven or eight months preceding publication key elements of the Green Paper for Youth – Youth Matters – had been selectively leaked. However, given the constant influence of Andrew Adonis (first as an adviser to Tony Blair, now as a minister in the DfES), the need to conform to the parameters of the ‘new Labour project’, and the sheer momentum of the Every Child Matters agenda, the basic shape of the proposals have remained relatively intact.
While Youth Matters does not use the term ‘youth offer’ a significant amount of policy discussion behind the scenes was concerned with improving the range of ‘positive activities’ on offer to young people. Instead it talks of ‘local offers’ (paras 17-133) and teenagers. The latter is interesting as it is both an indicator of the age range addressed and a reference back to earlier debates (see below). The concern was to ‘improve’ the mixed quality of existing youth service provision. Youth Matters – the Green Paper for Youth argues that many local teenagers are effectively excluded from provision and that too many youth services offer a poor service. It states that in the current system in England:
- services do not always meet the needs of individual young people;
- the various organisations providing services and help for young people do not work together as effectively or imaginatively as they should, with the result that money and effort is wasted;
- not enough is being done to prevent young people from drifting into a life of poverty or crime;
- services are failing to exploit the full potential of the internet, mobile phones and other new technologies; and
- teenagers and their parents do not have enough say in what is provided. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters]: para 72)
The Government proposes that an ‘offer’ should be made to all young people. Mainly based around activities – especially sports and other organized ‘positive’ pursuits – there is, though, some recognition of the contribution of informal activities. Youth Matters includes a specific proposals around this (see below). The Labour Party Manifesto (2005) had earlier argued for a ‘better alternative for young people’ which included a ‘national framework for youth volunteering, action and engagement’ (The Labour Party 2005: 106). The ‘youth offer’ proposed in Youth Matters involves a new duty laid upon local authorities to meet certain national standards around ‘positive activities’ for young people. These include:
- access to two hours per week of sporting activity;
- access to two hours per week of other constructive activities in clubs, youth groups and classes;
- opportunities to make a positive contribution to their community through volunteering;
- a wide range of other recreational, cultural, sporting and enriching experiences; and
- a range of safe and enjoyable places in which to spend time. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters] [Youth Matters]: para 125)
Responsibility for ‘delivering’ this ‘offer’ will fall to local authorities working through the new children’s trusts – but there is little or no new funding (other than the limited amount associated with extended schooling and some apparently new money – £40 million over a two year period – 2006-2008 for capital expenditure) to provide this range of activity. The result of this shortfall will be a significant, possibly massive, extension of charging for activities as often the full cost will need to be recovered (see below).
Government support for sporting opportunities for older teenagers ‘will be increased by investing in a network of local youth sport development managers’ (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters] [Youth Matters], para 141). The green paper continues: ‘In order to reach those young people not in education, employment or training, the youth sport development manager will work with local partners and use existing national models of good practice, such as Positive Futures, to engage young people in sport’.
Youth Matters also goes back to an idea floated by David Blunkett and others some years ago: ‘giving more young people the opportunity to take part in summer residential events’ (see our article on summer camps). Here it is claimed that:
Experiences of this sort enable young people to learn through active adventure and to mix with other teenagers from a range of different backgrounds and life experiences. They can also provide a productive context in which to develop new skills, for example, a better understanding of enterprise and business. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 142)
Rather ominously, given the profoundly flawed vision of young people and youth work involved, the Youth Matters – the green paper for youth – also looks to ‘re-invigorate youth work by building on the ideas set out in Transforming Youth Work and recognising its vital role in engaging young people’ (op. cit.).
The youth opportunity card
Youth Matters proposes to put ‘spending power’ in the hands of young people. The main mechanism for this is the introduction of a youth opportunity card – a smart card bit like a mobile phone top-up card. The youth opportunity card is to be piloted in a number of areas (at least eight between 2006 and 2008) before being ‘rolled out’ nationally. It will give young people discounts on, and the ability to pay for, ‘positive activities’. Further discounts on goods and services would also be negotiated with commercial companies (much like the NUS card or the Young Scot card).
The cards, it is proposed by Youth Matters, will be credited initially by ‘activity accounts’. These accounts will have a certain amount of money deposited into them by central government and local authorities – with some young people i.e. those deemed to be at risk and disadvantage – receiving higher funding than others. Parents and carers will also be able to top up the card, and young people will be able to increase their credit by involvement in voluntary activities in their communities (as suggested by the Russell Commission on Youth Volunteering – see below). The scheme is seen as a way of ’empowering’ young people as consumers. This area of Youth Matters is based upon the idea that putting ‘buying power’ in the hands of young people is the best way of ensuring that the ‘purposeful activities’ that are provided meets their needs (see below). Previous forays into this territory such as individual learning accounts were not a conspicuous success.
Importantly, usage of the activity account and card will also link into local databases and become part of the information that services can draw upon when dealing with individual young people (although there is some debate about the extent of this – see below). Youth Matters proposes a significant extension of the surveillance and monitoring of young people. However, whether or not the youth card comes into widespread usage, other management information systems (such as that pioneered by the National Youth Agency and adopted by many local authorities) will mean that the surveillance and monitoring of young people will be extended.
A further issue linked to Youth Matters championing of the youth opportunity card is the suggestion that any subsidy would be withheld from young people whose behaviour is unacceptable and the card suspended or withdrawn. Given the central role the card will play in surveillance and monitoring it is probable only certain functions that would be suspended rather than the card being taken away. However, Al Aynsley-Green, the children’s commissioner has expressed concerns about this aspect of the scheme. ‘The small minority who do engage in anti-social behaviour are frequently those who are troubled and come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Taking a punitive approach and withdrawing benefits and incentives would be he very last resort’ (Young People Now, 20 July 2005: 2).
The capital cost of the scheme (producing the smart cards, installing readers and linking them to local databases) is going to be high – and the cost of administering it is also going to be significant (as the various costings for the national identity card scheme show – see LSE 2005). These costs will need to be recouped and it is possible that the youth card and the proposed national identity card will be one and the same in the long run (especially as those employed to develop the systems and software for the youth card talk about it as the youth identity card!). This has been denied by Beverley Hughes, the children, young people and families minister saying that the cards will not be developed to ‘the high specifications proposed for ID cards’ (Young People Now July 27, 2005: 11).
Schools the main site for ‘purposeful activity’
Youth Matters – the green paper for youth – rather underplays the role of schools. It simply says that some of the activities ‘will be delivered by schools; others will be delivered in partnership with the community, the Youth Service and other children’s services’ (DfES 2005: para 135). But this is a matter of audience – when the green paper, Youth Matters, is read alongside other policy documents emerging from the Department a rather different picture emerges. Schools will, effectively, be the main providers or hosts of these ‘purposeful’ opportunities. They provide the only government controlled, large-scale, widespread and under-utilized facilities for sports and activities. Schools are also the chosen site for much of the extension of child care to facilitate greater participation in the workforce. The Prime Minister had previously announced that the government would be increasing provision within schools through school sport partnerships and the arts programme, Creative Partnerships (Prime Ministers Office 2003). Youth Matters – the Green paper for youth – follows the lines set out by the prospectus on extended schooling (DfES 2005b). That paper confirmed that elements previously trailed as ‘the youth offer’ would be largely offered through extended secondary schools:
We want secondary schools to be open 8am-6pm, year round, providing a wide range of things for young people to do such as arts, sports or special interest clubs, and other study support such as ‘catch up’ and ‘stretch’ opportunities. Young people will only attend activities that they find attractive and so schools will need actively to engage young people in developing their offer. The benefits to young people can be huge, giving them opportunities to pursue wider interests and develop new skills, as well as socialise in a safe environment. These activities can also play an important part in helping children live healthier lives and reducing obesity through providing cookery classes or sports. In some areas, access to affordable things for young people to do can be limited and they can also be at risk of being involved in or the victim of crime as they have no safe place to be. (DfES 2005a: 11)
The government has made a commitment that by 2010 all children ‘should have access to a variety of activities beyond the school day’ (ibid.: 4). It is expected that one third of secondary schools ‘should be making this offer’ by 2008. In some respects this view of work with young people mirrors what was suggested by the Fairbairn sub-committee back in 1969 (see Youth and Community Work in the 70s) – but without the concern for community!
The Green Paper for Youth – Youth Matters – looks to encourage more young people to volunteer and to become more involved in their communities:
The new body that will implement the recommendations of the Russell Commission on volunteering will have the task of developing exciting and innovative ways to achieve a step-change in volunteering. This will help to develop a stronger sense of rights and responsibilities and improve mutual understanding between young people and the wider community. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para. 3.1)
The proposals include:
- encouraging more peer mentoring – young people supporting other young people;
- exploring how to expand longer-term volunteering opportunities;
- promoting more volunteering and active citizenship approaches in schools, colleges and universities;
- encouraging more volunteering in public services;
- considering options relating to financial support for volunteers;
- developing more flexible approaches to volunteering;
- celebrating further young people’s positive achievements in the community; and
- exploring the role rewards can play in encouraging volunteering and affirming young people’s positive choices. (ibid. paras 151-162)
Money to fund some of these developments had already been announced following the publication of the Russell Commission report. Whilst the encouragement of volunteering has merit, there are a number of questions arising from the way it is approached in Youth Matters. Here we want to note two. First, the chapter in which these proposals are made is entitled ‘Young people as citizens: making a contribution’ – but its subject matter is almost wholly volunteering. The result is a rather domesticated and narrow view of citizenship. There is nothing, for example, about political involvement.
Second, the linking of volunteering to reward is worrying and could act to undermine many of the supposed social benefits that it brings. Reward alters the motivation for volunteering from one of service to one of individual gain.
Youth at risk
There is a belief that too many vulnerable young people are falling through gaps in service provision. In part this is seen as a result of the various divisions between services and a supposed lack of communication and collaboration between them. Youth Matters (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters]) proposes to simplify and reform arrangements and systems so that young people can be the focus of earlier, and more preventative, intervention; and so that support is more integrated and efficient. This is to be achieved is by giving children’s trusts overall responsibility for developing services and achieving public service achievement targets around those deemed NEET – not in employment, education and training (this is also shared with schools), teenage pregnancy and drug usage. There is also some responsibility around reducing the number of young people involved in crime and anti-social behaviour.
To achieve all this Youth Matters, the green paper for youth proposes:
- bringing together a number of existing programmes currently focusing on specific issues into a more integrated ‘holistic’ approach to young people.
- establishing local youth support teams focused on preventative work and early intervention with targeted individuals. These teams of youth workers, advisers, education welfare and social work staff might be based in extended schools and community centres.
- introducing a system of lead professionals to ensure that every young person who needs support has someone to ‘take care’ of their interests.
These elements had been extensively trailed in the months before the publication of Youth Matters and still involve a number of key areas of clarification – in particular around the role of schools.
In relation to targeted support the Youth Matters green paper seeks to encourage what it describes as ‘the integrated youth support service’ to set up targeted youth support teams which would have the aim of:
- identifying early those young people who need additional support or intervention, including using universally available activities to identify and engage young people with additional needs;
- making it easy for young people to access the system, and carrying out in-depth assessments of young people, where this has not already been carried out by practitioners within universal services;
- providing ‘wrap-around’ support, via a lead professional. The lead professional could be drawn from within the targeted support team or, for a young person who has a range of additional needs, could be someone with whom they already have an established relationship;
- delivering effective preventive work for groups of young people;
- providing an outreach, support and training role for practitioners within universal and more specialist agencies; and
- ensuring wherever appropriate that parents are involved from the outset.
Information, advice and guidance
Youth Matters argues that all young people should be able to access ‘quality’ information, advice and guidance. The paper continues:
The advice should be impartial, comprehensive and free from stereotyping. It should be available in ways that young people want – for example, face-to-face support and advice from people who know them and their abilities; but also on demand and interactively via the web, text and telephone. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 5.1)
Better national on-line information around things like post-14 choices and by phone and web access to ‘skilled’ advisers had already been trailed. The Labour Party manifesto had earlier talked about ‘A nationwide system of advice – bringing together support on skills, jobs and careers – helping people to get on at work’ (2005: 20). So too, had the other elements of the proposals – moving the primary responsibility for information, advice and guidance from Connexions to Children’s Trusts – but with schools and colleges taking on more of the more ‘universal’ and generalized work.
We would expect children’s trusts, schools and colleges to work in partnership to commission IAG locally… Following a phased approach from 2006, we would expect these new arrangements to be in place by 2008. (op. cit)
Crudely, this means that the work of the Connexions Service will be split with responsibility for the provision of careers guidance to 13-18 year olds resting with schools and colleges; and responsibility for work with young people who do not attend a learning institution going to Children’s Trusts (see the section above on youth at risk). Around £150 million had been earlier reported as being earmarked for these reforms in 2008 with around £80 million being put aside for staff redundancies. It appears that only around half the existing £450 million spent on Connexions Services (we believe this figure refers to the 2002-3 outturn figures) was to be allocated to the new service – 40 per cent of the cash will go direct to schools and colleges, and 60 per cent to Children’s Trusts. However, there may well be a significant amount of smoke and mirrors here. At the moment Children’s Trusts will, it appears, be responsible for producing a ‘prospectus’ of local employment opportunities. Children’s Trusts will also have to maintain information systems ‘inherited’ from Connexions. The Connexions brand – tired and tarnished as it is – and possibly elements of the organization will be retained within many Children’s Trusts for some aspects of the work both to save some face over what has been a monumental policy blunder (see the background briefing on the failure of Connexions) and to give some stability to services.
In the Youth Matters proposals the actual shape of provision can differ from trust to trust depending on local circumstances. In most cases the government expects to see children’s trusts, schools and colleges agreeing on new arrangements. However, where schools and colleges believe existing provision is poor, ‘they would have the right to commission services directly and withdraw from arrangements brokered by the children’s trust’ (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 174). The Youth Matters green paper continues, ‘How far IAG commissioned by schools and colleges met quality standards would be determined by inspection. Where provision commissioned by schools and colleges was not meeting quality standards, devolved funding could be withdrawn by children’s trusts’.
There are some very significant questions around the current proposals in Youth Matters for the organization of careers guidance and how its quality will be enhanced. Hopefully, the proposal to move substantial resourcing into schools for careers guidance and advice will later be matched with money to establish a specialist external service perhaps along the lines of Careers Scotland and Careers Wales at some point. As Tony Watts (2005b) has recently pointed out the OECD’s work ‘strongly favours a delivery model based on a partnership between schools/colleges and an external service. This is precisely the model that the UK has had in the past…. and that the rest of the UK has retained’. The issue when information advice and guidance moves into schools is whether the proper degree of independence and expertise can be ensured. For the moment it is difficult to see how it can. Thus, while the End to End Review of careers education and guidance argued that the the greatest potential for ‘improving CEG delivery lies in driving up the quality and relevance of careers education in schools’; it also concluded that ‘schools (especially those with sixth forms) do not always provide impartial guidance to 14-to16-year olds on the full range of local learning opportunities’ DfES 2005d: 5).
Workforce reform and the introduction of a new ‘generic worker’
In Government’s five year strategy for education published last year reference was made to the notion of ‘educare’:
Particularly in the earliest years, children learn through play and exploration, and making an artificial distinction between education and childcare is unhelpful. Our aim is, wherever possible, to bring together nursery education and childcare into a single integrated offer for pre-school children – ‘educare’ (Ch.2, para. 15)
This theme reappeared in a different guise in the recently published Children’s Workforce Strategy (DfES 2005a) as the new teacher’ or ‘social pedagogue’. The document asserts that the term social pedagogue’ ‘applies to a broad range of services such as child care, early years, youth work/residential care and play settings. It applies to the overall support for children’s development and focuses on the child as a whole person, bringing together education, social care and health’ ibid.: 50). It further suggests that the emphasis of this professional model is on
… learning, care and upbringing being inseparable, interconnected parts of life. The child is seen as a social being, connected to others and at the same time with his or her own distinctive experiences and knowledge. The social pedagogue works closely with individuals and groups to enable them to develop their potential as social beings.
Significantly all this has been underplayed in Youth Matters. The current ministerial team appear to have decided to step back from pushing this element of the agenda at this point. The green paper proposals are seen as having direct implications for the workforce in two areas:
- potential changes when funding and responsibility for Connexions work passes from Connexions Partnerships to Local Authorities; and
- changes to both roles and practices through the development of an integrated youth support service. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 270)
With regard to the second, the green paper states that ‘an integrated service will inevitably mean changes for many of the workforce currently located in Connexions, Youth Services or in targeted support programmes, whether they are employed by Connexions Partnerships, Local Authorities, the voluntary and community sector or private providers’ (ibid.: para 273). In an important paragraph workforce reform emerges:
Local partners will need to agree the right balance between targeted and universal support and make clear the distinctive roles for each of the professions and services engaging with and supporting young people. We believe that, in the future, the focus should be on skills and competencies needed to deliver services for young people rather than on organisational and employment structures that have led to a proliferation of new, specific roles in response to individual initiatives. This means employers will need to look afresh at the mix of skills in their workforce compared to the local analysis of what young people need. Creating a better fit between these elements should enable frontline professionals and practitioners to use their time more effectively. (ibid.: para 274)
Some commentators have sought relief in the paper’s statement that ‘Within this remodelling we anticipate a new and a reinvigorated role for youth workers’ – but later comments in Youth Matters indicate a desire to build on existing skills and ‘developing them to meet new challenges’ (ibid., para 277). The paper continues:
We need to bring the skills of the workforce closer to the needs of teenagers and remove the barriers that can frustrate workers in the current system. We are committed to developing more coherent, attractive career pathways for everyone working with children and young people. These pathways will be based on a new single qualifications framework for the children’s workforce, underpinned by a common core of skills and knowledge, as set out in the Children’s Workforce Strategy.
If this line holds then there will considerable overlap with elements of the youth worker role currently envisaged within the Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council and the new Sector Skills Council for children’s services. This council, the strategy document announced, ‘will lead in the development of a common core of skills, knowledge and competence for all who work with children, young people and families, and a complementary set of qualifications’ (DfES 2004a, Ch. 2., para 41).
The role of voluntary and community organizations
Youth Matters asserts that provision is strongest where ‘we take the best from the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector’ (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters]: para 92). It continues, ‘We want to see children’s trusts at the heart of these developments, orchestrating a mixed economy of services and opportunities for young people’. This is an interesting form of words – it places children’s trusts, as the commissioner of services, at the centre of provision. Yet when we look at youth work – the vast bulk of provision receives little or no government money and has little inclination or need to attend to government policy in terms of aims and activities. Children’s trusts will be marginal to their existence. While it is possible to introduce something like a framework for the vetting of workers with children and young people within voluntary organizations and community groups (e.g. DfES 2005c), it is really not possible at this moment to direct them in any meaningful way. Attempting to do so undermines civic society and would alienate significant political forces.
The usual route of influence taken by recent governments has been through offering some form of resource or funding incentive if organizations follow their policy. However, the amount of money on offer overall is small. As a recent National Audit Office Report states: ‘Although the sector is a prominent provider in some areas of public services, it nonetheless accounts for only around 0.5 per cent of central government expenditure’ (2005: 1). Those agencies and groups that accept significant state funding (and the conditions involved) have increasingly become incorporated into state apparatus.
As a result voluntary and community organizations tend to form a sort of residual category in government thinking. A nod has to be made in their direction – but taking them and the role they play in democratic societies seriously would involve fundamental shifts, for example, allowing local groups freedom to decide how best to work and what to do when they receive state funding; recognizing that building social capital is a slow process; and moving away from targets and outcomes. The ‘commissioning’ model proposed in Youth Matters is completely inappropriate if the aim is to strengthen civic society. These are shifts that the new Labour project has difficulty accommodating.
One of the largely unspoken assumptions in, and consequences of, Youth Matters is that the voluntary and community sector, alongside the commercial sector, will be the main providers of ‘safe and enjoyable places in which to spend time’. Little or nothing is said about how these places are to be ‘orchestrated’ by children’s trusts – and pressures on the provision of purposeful activity and on work with targeted individuals and groups will mean that money does not flow in this direction.
Youth Matters/the Green Paper for youth – some issues
While there are some positive aspects to Youth Matters, at this point we want to focus on five, key, areas of critique that can be made of the analysis and proposals in Youth Matters, the Green Paper for Youth. Taken together they reveal the paper at this point as fundamentally flawed and deeply problematic.
Youth Matters: young people treated as consumers and potential workers – not citizens
In the leaks and discussions prior to the finalizing of Youth Matters numerous references were made to the need to involve young people in decision-making. There was a proposal, for example, to establish local grant schemes that would allow young people to apply for money to improve a space to meet their needs. However, as with much of the previous practice with regard to Connexions and Transforming Youth Work (DfEE 2001, DfES 2002) a good deal of participation talked about is in the service of better improving ‘delivery’ rather than in the cultivation of political and civic society. Furthermore, young people (or rather in Youth Matters’ terms ‘teenagers’) are put in the role of consumers of ‘positive activities’. They shop around with their opportunity card and buy what they want. There is an interesting reference back in all this. The term ‘teenager’ broke through into public debates in Britain around concerns about the spending power of young people (see Abrams 1959). That same spending power is not a worry for the government, but rather a means of allocating resources. Youth Matters claims that the government wants ‘more young people to take part in these activities by empowering them to shape what is on offer’ (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters]d, chapter 3 – summary). However the way that this will happen is largely through the activities they consume. This orientation undermines any concern some of the authors may have had with fostering social capital and civic society. It is consumption and activity that matter – not association.
There couldn’t be a starker contrast with the emphasis upon association, democratic participation and the whole person in the classic government statement of youth work – The Albemarle Report (MoE 1960). It began by endorsing John Maud’s earlier statement of purpose:
To offer individual young people in their leisure time opportunities of various kinds, complementary to those of home, formal education and work, to discover and develop their personal resources of body, mind and spirit and thus the better equip themselves to live the life of mature, creative and responsible members of a free society. (Ministry of Education 1960: 36)
To achieve this the Albemarle Committee then laid a special emphasis on association, training and challenge as aims. ‘To encourage young people to come together into groups of their own choosing is the fundamental task of the Service’, they argued (1960: 52). All this is too untidy and unpredictable for the authors of Youth Matters. What is more it misses the point for them. At root they are not interested in young people as participants in social and political processes, not interested in them as spiritual beings; not interested in fostering a free society. Part of the problem here is the framework provided by Every Child Matters (DfES 2003) and the Connexions strategy and the way these chime with new Labour concerns. The five Every Child Matters’ outcomes – wanting children and young people to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being – constitute a rather limited vision of what makes for human happiness. They also tend to get reduced to the second and fifth of these. Safety (as much for the system as the child and young person) and economic growth and competitiveness provide much of the framework for policy debates.
Youth Matters: Young people’s civil liberties are eroded
Alongside placing young people as consumers there is also a strong concern with diverting them from what are seen as troublesome activities (such as hanging around on the street). In pursuit of this we have already seen how freedom of movement and association in public spaces has been curtailed by the use of curfews and dispersal orders (although thankfully the government’s authoritarianism in this area has been dealt a blow by the high court). The emphasis upon the surveillance and control of young people that characterized the New Labour Connexions Strategy remains in play in Youth Matters – the Green Paper for Youth – with all its implications for the civil rights of young people.
The main area of attack upon young people’s civil rights in Youth Matters is linked to the proposed introduction of widespread recording of their participation in different activities via the proposed youth card and the development of existing monitoring arrangements. One of the issues here is that comprehensive data about their leisure time activities and private lives will become available to the state. However, this will become an increasingly contested area. There is growing recognition, as a recent IPPR report put it, of a ‘seeming imbalance between the Government’s enthusiasm for public service modernisation and its respect for constitutional due process’ (Davies 2005: 68). Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, has warned that proposed the database containing details of all children and young people (legislated for within in the Children Act 2004) breaches the European Convention on Human Rights European Court (Young People Now March 9, 2005). The comments he made with regard to identity cards apply with equal force to the youth card and the databases behind it.
I have expressed my unease that the current proposal to establish a national identification system is founded on an extensive central register of personal information controlled by government and is disproportionate to the stated objectives behind the introduction of ID cards. It raises substantial data protection concerns about the extent of the information recorded about an individual when the ID card is used in their day to day lives and sparks fears about the potential for wider use/access to this information in the future. (Thomas in LSE 2005: 3)
The issues of proportionality and of who has access to what should be key aspects of the debate. The unedifying sight of youth workers and personal advisers routinely breaching young people’s civil rights through the entering of information onto databases capable of linking to wider systems has become all too common as so called ‘management information systems’ have come into use within youth services.
As a result of criticisms of this kind, the minister (Beverley Hughes) has stated that the youth card will not integrate with the information-sharing plans set out in the Children Act 2004. However, what is left unsaid here is exactly which databases will they integrate with. They will have to link into some sort of national infrastructure, and to other databases within children’s trusts, thus making information available to different teams – and probably to schools (especially given that they are the key site for the youth offer).
We need to shift the debate around Youth Matters to look at young people’s opportunities for privacy. As William Davies (2005: 32) has written in the context of the expansion and inter-connectability of government databases and of the ‘digital agenda’ in general, ‘people can only be expected to embrace technologies actively if they retain the right not to’. He continues:
In a highly-interconnected society, privacy is the right to disconnect, to be anonymous and to be alone should one wish. No consumer would be expected to sign up to a broadband connection or mobile phone package if there was no way of cancelling it. And yet, industry and government currently try to convince citizens of the benefits of technological modernisation across society, without developing any sincere narrative as to how we may be able to opt out of it periodically or permanently, collectively or individually. For people to engage confidently with an interconnected world, they need both the entitlement and the know-how to limit that engagement when they see fit. A genuinely reassuring policy programme could consist of nothing less.
The Youth Card and the current, routine, monitoring of involvement with young people via databases intrude in unacceptable ways into what should be the private lives of young people.
Youth Matters: promotes an over-focus on the school
There are also some very significant questions following Youth Matters around the centrality of the school in the organization of the ‘youth offer’ and the nature of their role with regard to careers and other advice. While better information, advice and guidance is needed within schools (especially with regard to careers, sexuality and relationships) and there is a clear need to expand the current range and availability of associational and extra-curricular activity in schools (see informal education in schools), there are specific problems around making schools, whether by accident or intention, the central element of any youth or community or guidance strategy.
First, there is constant pressure to make extra-curricular activities serve schooling objectives and the needs of the school as an organization. One of the key features of the current interest in out of school (and college) hours learning is that the more liberal notion of extra-curricular activity has been replaced by curricular-focused activity. ‘Out of school hours learning’ has looked to extend and enrich the curriculum, to tie such learning more closely to government and schooling objectives. It is not necessarily about the interests and enthusiasms of students. In other words, there has been a shift from extra-curricular activity to curricular-extension approaches and a move from activities that are student-centred to those that are concerned with government targets and outcomes. When the informal and non-formal enters schools it tends to get formalized in some way. One of the questions around the emphasis in Youth Matters on purposeful activity is the extent to which it will be subject to the sort of requirements for accreditation that were called upon by the Transforming Youth Work project. There is also a fundamental question about whether an emphasize on activity of this kind will put-off many young people. This is exactly the conclusion of DfES-sponsored research published at the same time as the green paper:
It is a particularly important challenge for policy in this area to recognise that although the effects of relatively unstructured environments for young people may not be as positive as policy may wish, these may be precisely the contexts in which the most challenging and at-risk young people are choosing to engage. It may be the lack of imposed adult structure and curricula that makes these contexts attractive. Therefore imposing structured activities risks excluding from these programmes precisely the groups targeted. (Feinstein et. al. 2005: 18)
Second, schools have, historically, been poor at accommodating work that operates from contrasting frameworks. Classically, youth workers and informal educators have experienced problems when working in schools around confidentiality, discipline, learning about sensitive issues, and targets. There are bound to be conflicts when educators and workers from different practice traditions have to work together – but informal educators in schools and colleges start with an obvious disadvantage. Their orientation and approach has been, generally, significantly out of step with the ways of working that dominate schooling (discussed in our article on informal education in schools). There can be a similar set of tensions around the role of counsellors and guidance workers within schools. This often relates to the openness of the process involved (and in particular what can be discussed) and issues around confidentiality.
Third, schools have rarely been good at fostering associational life and engaging with local communities. They are structured like pyramids with power strongly in the hands of the head. There is little evidence in recent government papers, including Youth Matters, that they are prepared to take on the historic power of heads, or deep-seated attitudes around involvement. There is talk in the extended schools prospectus of involving children and parents and of parents helping in planning, running and evaluating activities. What is absent is any sustained consideration of the role of community groups and youth movements such as the guides and scouts.
Last, there remain significant questions around the ability of schools to give the independent counsel and advice that Youth Matters claims to promote. As we have discussed in the background paper to Youth Matters, OECD (2004) research has highlighted the need for a specialist services with respect to careers guidance systems, for example. It criticized generic models and approaches that make guidance school- or college-based on the grounds that they:
- have weak links with the labour market, and a tendency to view educational choices as ends in themselves without attention to their longer-term career implications.
- lack impartiality, and that schools consciously or otherwise promote their own provision rather than college or work-based routes.
- lack consistency: the policy levers on schools and colleges to provide services in this area tend to be weak, it is argued, and services tend to be patchy both in coverage/accessibility and in quality. (OECD 2004, quoted in NAMSS 2005). [This conclusion was echoed by the Select Committee on Education and Skills 2005: para. 99.]
All this does not diminish the case for associational and informal education activity and information, guidance and advice work within schools – it simply argues that there are considerable problems in this area – and that schools can only be a part of a strategy. They have to take their place alongside the cultivation of civic society, the fostering of a range of spaces where young people can come together both with their peers and other members of local communities, and access to independent sources of information, advice and guidance.
Youth Matters: heralding an extended regime of charging
It is clear that the amount of money on the table from the government for the youth offer is nothing like the amount required. Furthermore, Youth Matters offers no evidence to support its claim that ‘putting spending power in the hands of young people will make sports and constructive activities more affordable’ (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters]; para 109). While there may be some state-funded one-off credits to the card (more if you fall into some risk or disadvantage category), many of the activities will have to be provided at cost – so there will be a significant extension of charging. Youth Matters is in no way close to being the youth equivalent of the English Sure Start programme.
As we have seen the primary site for the ‘youth offer’ will be the extended school. In the Extended School Prospectus (DfES 2005b) it was announced that £680 million would be available to fund the expansion for 2005-8 (of which £250 million will go directly to schools and £430 million to local authorities). This level of funding will also decrease significantly post 2008. The Prospectus explicitly encourages schools to charge parents for the childcare and other activities they provide (DfES 2005b: 27). While it is possible for parents to apply for the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit – it is not apparent what sort of other activity elements can be included. Whatever the outcome here it is clear is that extended schools and, by implication, the ‘youth offer’ will involve the development of a significant charging regime. Even when this extended schooling money is added to youth service monies, it is obvious that with the expected increase in take-up of sporting and other activity the only option for most schools (and other agencies such as sports centres) will be to charge at close to full cost. There is some mention of additional monies in Youth Matters possibly being available after the youth opportunity card/young people’s activity accounts have been piloted – but this is likely to be targeted funding. Furthermore, for schools and agencies in areas of significant deprivation – where people do not have the money to pay for additional services – we may well find that it is only certain groups that have the resources to access activities – even with the intervention of the youth opportunities card.
Youth Matters: the tyranny of joined-up thinking
Youth Matters continues with the new Labour concern with ‘joined-up thinking’ and joined-up services’. As we have argued elsewhere (see the review of the Connexions strategy) the government’s focus on the duplication of, and lack of coordination between, agencies and services is problematic. There still has been little detailed or sustained research with regard to the government’s analysis. Where it has been a focus, for example, Cole (2000), the material has been largely anecdotal or case-study based. We lack hard evidence that the approach works in this context. It may well be that many partnerships between agencies are not well planned and ‘suffer from bureaucratic and funding straightjackets which seem to prevent suitable and sensitive partnerships and “joined-up” solutions’ (Cole 2000: 17) – but there is some evidence that the Connexions strategy (and now the Every Child Matters agenda) has exacerbated this. Both bring with them their own bureaucratic and funding straightjackets.
The notion of ‘joined-up’ services proceeds from a dubious assumption – that young people benefit from dealing with services that share information with one another. At one level there is some sense in trying to avoid duplication, and in ensuring that those working with particularly problematic clients know important information. However, there is a downside to it. Many agencies work on the basis of a ‘fresh start’ – and may well not welcome such information. Unfortunately, in the current context they may not be able to avoid making use of it. In addition, the compilation of comprehensive files on young people, allied with an emphasis on coordinating the efforts of agencies, can lead to an depersonalised approach that emphasizes the management of cases rather than working with the young people’s accounts of situations and experiences. Unfortunately, a lot of what has gone on in the name of ‘child protection’ in terms of information sharing and surveillance is better understood as ‘agency protection’. It has been informed by a concern to ‘watch backs’ rather than to seriously consider what is best for the child or young person.
What we also know is that the sort of ‘integrated approach’ advocated in Youth Matters almost inevitably lead to greater centralization, albeit at the children’s trust level and a vast increase in bureaucratic activity. As the green paper itself put it:
Applying the principles of Every Child Matters in full to services for teenagers means planning and commissioning services in an integrated way – across the spectrum from universal activities to specialist and targeted support. Children’s trusts will lead this process in each area, leading the development of an integrated youth support service, with integrated governance, processes and frontline delivery. (HM Government 2005 [Youth Matters], para 76)
It is difficult to see how the government can square their avowed aim of building a system ‘that is more responsive to teenagers and which allows greater freedom for the frontline and more scope to innovate’ (ibid. para. 90) with the ‘orchestrating’ role envisaged for children’s trusts.
Lastly ‘joined-up services’ can lead to the erosion of one of the key features of good youth work – that it provides young people with space away from the constant surveillance of families, schools and the state; space to find and be themselves. It might well be that there is substantial demand by groups of young people for spaces and work that is ‘off-the-record’; that is not part of the youth offer and youth opportunity card arrangements. In this there is room for action by non-state sponsored groups and agencies. As Richard Sennett (1973) wrote in a different context, there can be considerable benefits in disorder.
In some respects Youth Matters represents a further step towards the embracing in state-sponsored work of a conservative version of north American youth development activity. They both focus, in practice, ‘almost exclusively on the individual’ (Degado, 2002: 48). They both utilise what is, essentially, a deficit paradigm (see Smith 2003). Youth Matters:
- views young people seen as consumers – not citizens;
- fails more broadly to properly engage with social capital and civic society; and threatens the civil liberties of the young – particularly through the introduction of the youth opportunity card.
- promotes an over-focus on the school. As a result there is a constant danger of formalizing activity, failing to cultivate associational life, and of not providing a sufficiently informed and independent guidance and advice.
- heralds an extended regime of charging.
- furthers the tyranny of joined-up thinking. Young people need space away from prying systems in order to be themselves and to grow.
There are, of course, important organizational issues and other questions that Youth Matters leaves unanswered. One important area concerns the role of heads and of governing bodies – and the extent that they will have responsibility for the work associated with the ‘youth offer’. Another is the stance taken around faith and faith communities. Thus far, and in Youth Matters, faith and faith communities have been ‘dealt with’ by ignoring them – but no sensible or coherent policy can afford to do that in the current context for any length of time.
A further issue is linked to another element of the Labour Party programme. The 2005 election manifesto argued for ‘new opportunities for communities to assume greater responsibility or even ownership of community assets like village halls, community centres, libraries or recreational facilities’ (2005: 105). State youth work provision in the form of centres, clubs and drop ins are obvious candidates for neighbourhood control. There is a real sense of tension here. With regard to Youth Matters those advancing this case lost out. Ministers and policymakers who have been committed to central direction in provision only seem able to deal with the community and voluntary sector through a buyer-provider relationship. But their days are numbered – not because of the political strength of those concerned with democratic renewal and social capital, but because the model doesn’t work. Just as comprehensive economic planning failed in the 1960s, so attempts at across-the-board ‘orchestration’ by children’s trusts and central government will founder.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Youth Matters is unintentional. The desire to extend the surveillance and control of the young reflected in its proposals and the way Youth Matters seeks to close down space within state-sponsored work for ‘disorganized’ activity does mean that significant numbers of young people are likely to be looking elsewhere for opportunities. There is going to be a growing demand for new spaces where conversations can be ‘off the record’, where privacy is respected, and where people can simply ‘be’ and engage and organize at their pace. Pubs and betting shops will welcome those with money. But for many others something like an updated version of the youth club and youth cafe will be needed. The big question is whether the many community groups, churches and faith communities, and voluntary youth organizations outside the state nexus will be able to respond.
Further reading and bibliography
Abrams, M. A. (1959) The Teenage Consumer, London: London Press Exchange.
Coles, B. (2000) Joined-Up Youth Research, Policy and Practice. A new agenda for change?, Leicester: Youth Work Press.
Connexions (2005) ‘Partnership NEET targets met’ Connexions, http://www.connexions.gov.uk/partnerships/
Davies, W. (2005) Modernising with Purpose. A Manifesto for a Digital Britain, London: Institute for Public Policy Research.
Delgado, M. (2002) New Frontiers for Youth Development in the Twenty-first century, New York: Columbia University Press.
Department for Education and Employment (1999) Learning to Succeed. A new framework for post 16 learning, London: The Stationery Office (Cm 4392). http://www.dfee.gov.uk/post16/br_white_exec.shtml.
Department for Education and Employment (2000) Connexions. The best start in life for every young person, London: DfEE. http://www.connexions.gov.uk/strategy.htm
Department for Education and Employment (2001) Transforming Youth Work. Developing youth work for young people, London: Department for Education and Employment/Connexions.
Department for Education and Skills (2002) Transforming Youth Work – resourcing excellent youth services, London: Department for Education and Skills/Connexions.
Department for Education and Skills (2003) Every Child Matters, London: Department for Education and Skills.
Department for Education and Skills (2004a) Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners, London: Department for Education and Skills.
Department for Education and Skills (2004b) Annual Report 2004, London: Department for Education and Skills. http://www.dfes.gov.uk/deptreport2004/.
Department for Education and Skills (2004c) ‘CEG end to end review’, http://www.dfes.gov.uk/1419/index.cfm?sid=5&pid=103&lid=67&ctype=
Text&ptype=Single. Accessed March 19, 2005.
Department for Education and Skills (2005a) Children’s Workforce Strategy. A strategy to build a world-class workforce for children and young people, London: Department for Education and Skills. http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/5958-DfES-ECM.pdf
Department for Education and Skills (2005b) Extended schools: Access to opportunities and services for all. A prospectus, London: Department for Education and Skills. http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/docbank/index.cfm?id=8509
Department for Education and Skills (2005c) Making Safeguarding Everyone’s Business: A post-Bichard vetting scheme, London: Department for Education and Skills. http://www.dh.gov.uk/assetRoot/04/10/96/31/04109631.pdf. Accessed July 11, 2005.
Department for Education and Skills (2005d) Report of the End to End Review of Careers Education and Guidance, London: Department for Education and Skills. http://www.cegnet.co.uk/newspage.asp?s=&PageID=1108. Accessed July 23, 2005.
Department of Health (2005) Independence, well-being and choice: our vision for the future of social care for adults in England, London: Department of Health. http://www.dh.gov.uk/PublicationsAndStatistics/Publications/Publications
Edwards, Michael (2004) Civil Society, Cambridge: Polity.
Edwards, M. (2005) ‘Civil society’, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/association/civil_society.htm.
Field, J. (2003) Social Capital, London: Routledge.
Feinstein, L., Bynner, J. and Duckworth, K. (2005) Leisure contexts in adolescence and their effects on adult outcomes, London: Institute for Education, http://www.learningbenefits.net/pdf/researchReports/ResRep15.pdf. Accessed July 22, 2005.
Giroux, H. A. (2000) Stealing Innocence. Corporate culture’s war on children, New York: Palgrave.
- M Government (2005) Youth Matters, London: The Stationery Office.
Hoggarth, L. & Smith, D. I. (2004). Understanding the Impact of Connexions on Young People at Risk. Research Report 607, London: Department for Education and Skills.
House of Commons (2005) Select Committee on Education and Skills Sixth Report, London: House of Commons. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmeduski/37/3702.htm, Accessed: March 25, 2005.
Labour Party, The (2005) Britain forward not back. The Labour Party manifesto 2005, London: The Labour Party.
Layard, R. (2005) Happiness. Lessons from a new science, London: Allan Lane.
London School of Economics (2005) The Identity Project. An assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications, London: London School of Economics.
Miliband, D. (2003) ‘Workforce reform: no turning back’, full text of speech when ‘schools minister’ June 17, 2003, The Guardian, http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,5500,979369,00.html
Ministry of Education (1960) The Youth Service in England and Wales (‘The Albemarle Report’), London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. http://www.infed.org/archives/albemarle_report/index.htm
Monbiot, G. (2000) Captive State. The corporate takeover of Britain, London: Pan.
Morris, M. (2004) Advice and Guidance in Schools. A report prepared for the National Audit Office. September 2003, London: National Audit Office. http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/0304/0304484_related_paper.pdf
Moulson, R. & Prail, S. (2004) Careers Wales Review – Final Report, Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.
NAMSS (2005) Career education and guidance support for young people: Key issues and recommendations, http://www.namss.org.uk/
Revised%2010%20point%20plan%20for%20England’s%20CS%201.2.05.pdf. Accessed March 19, 2005.
National Audit Office (2004) Department for Education and Skills: Connexions Service: advice and guidance for all young people, London: National Audit Office. Executive summary: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/03-04/0304484es.pdf. Full report: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/03-04/0304484es.pdf.
National Audit Office (2005) Working with the Third Sector, London: National Audit Office/Home Office. http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/05-06/050675.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2005.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2004) Career Guidance and Public Policy: Bridging the Gap, Paris: OECD.
Prime Minister’s Office (2003) ‘Prime Minister’s speech on the launch of the Children’s Green Paper, ‘Every Child Matters’, http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page4426.asp. Accessed March 22, 2005.
Public Accounts Committee (2004) Forty-eighth Report: Connexions Service HC618, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/
cmpubacc/618/61802.htm. Accessed March 18, 2005.
Putnam, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster.
Russell, I. M. (2005) A national framework for youth action and engagement, London: HMSO. The report is downloadable from http://www.russellcommission.org/.
Sennett, R. (1983) The Uses of Disorder. Personal identity and city life, London: Pelican.
Smith, M. K. (2003) ‘From youth work to youth development. The new government framework for English youth services’, Youth and Policy 79, Available in the informal education archives: http://www.infed.org/archives/jeffs_and_smith/smith_youth_work_to_youth_
Watts, A. G. ‘Career guidance and social exclusion: a cautionary tale’, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 29 (2), May 2001. Edited version: http://www.nya.org.uk/connex-TFC-career-guide.htm.
Watts, A. G. (2005) Progress and Potential, Glasgow: Careers Scotland.
Watts, A. G. (2005b) ‘End of Connexions’ http://www.trotman.co.uk/default.asp?action=article&id=624. Accessed: March 23, 2005.
Download Youth Matters – the green paper for youth.
Acknowledgement: Picture, ‘Dragon tail in action at Harrow Youth Club’ is by Goodimages. It was sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence. http://www.flickr.com/photos/goodimages/756389119/
How to cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2005) ‘Youth Matters – The Green Paper for Youth 2005’, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/youth work/green_paper.htm. First published; March 20, 2005.
© Mark K. Smith 2005