Aiming high for young people: a ten year strategy for positive activities

In July 2007 HM Treasury published its strategy for young people in England. While being based in a much fuller discussion of questions than previous English statements with regard to services for young people over the preceding ten years it had a number of fundamental flaws.

contents: introduction · aiming high for young people – business as usual · some issues · conclusion · references · download aiming high for young people (pdf)

Aiming high for young people (HM Treasury 2007) set out the government’s vision for young people in England. All young people, the paper argued, should gave access to the support and opportunities they want and need to:

  • succeed in education and continue participating in learning until the age of 18;
  • take part in activities that develop their resilience and the social and emotional skills they need for life, and enjoy their leisure time;
  • make a real contribution to society, using their energy and dynamism to bring about change;
  • be emotionally and physically healthy and able to cope with the demands of adolescence and becoming an adult; and
  • grow up in a safe and supportive environment.

However, this was to be targeted intervention (or in government speak ‘progressive universalism’). While this vision applied to all young people, ‘action to deliver it should be focused on providing support and opportunities to those for whom this vision will be hardest to achieve’ (HM Treasury 2007: 8).

Business as usual

Aiming high for young people was, basically an elaboration of the policies set out in Youth Matters (HM Government 2005) and within the Connexions strategy. Behind all the rhetoric and promises it was very much business as usual. There were some significant developments including additional monies (especially, rather tellingly, for ‘a place for young people to go in every constituency); a stronger emphasis upon recreation and leisure activity; and some nods towards community involvement. There was also a concern not to paint young people in the sort of negative light that had characterised some of the previous offerings – thus, the paper sought a more positive approach to young people across society and in particular within communities. Aiming high for young people also contained a continuing commitment to expanding ‘positive activities’ (most significantly through a development of the ‘offer’ made by extended schooling).

However, the fundamental direction and orientation was such that it carried forward many of the themes and concerns that have informed previous papers – and many of the same deep flaws.  For example, there was within the paper the same emphasis upon cataloguing outcomes rather than facilitating processes; and upon viewing young people as essentially consumers of services organized by ‘professionals’ (albeit with some nods to ’empowerment’).

Some issues

Behind all the rhetoric and promises , however, Aiming high for young people was very much business as usual. Here we want to highlight four key issues.

First, there was an almost total failure to address the significance of social capital, civil society and associational life. This is a crucial omission given that youth work was born, and only really make sense as a creature, of civil society. There is some discussion of the mechanisms by which communities may influence youth provision – but the proposals fall far short of orientation and support mechanisms necessary to effect real change. New Labour policymakers continued to find it difficult to get out of the business-bureaucratic mindset that dogged social intervention from the mid-1980s onwards. The emphasis upon state determination of priorities and the use of commissioning and targets are symptoms of a deep problem – a focus on top-down control and the technical. While there were growing signs of the failure of this approach to bring about the expected changes (see, for example, discussion of the failure of vastly increased expenditure to bring about proportionate change in the national health service – Wanless et. al. 2007), policymakers were unable to take the next step and turn to the potential contribution of more localized and improvisational interventions (what Speth 2005 has called Jazz).

Second, and linked to the above, the fundamental focus remained on the development and containment of individuals. This has been a feature of much policy around education and social intervention for many years, however, Aiming high for young people does frame services for young people in a completely different way to that which held sway in the post-war settlement. If we look to the Albemarle Report (MoE 1960) and the Fairbairn-Milson Report (DES 1969), for example, we can see youth work’s concern with individuals framed within sustaining and developing a free and democratic society. Association, group life, self-determination and voluntary participation were central animating concerns. For many years Lord Redcliffe-Maud’s statement of the aims of youth work had been regularly quoted. It stated that the aim of youth work (and the youth service) was: ‘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 to equip themselves to live the life of mature, creative and responsible members of a free society’.

Third, the Government continued to sidestep the whole area of spiritual and religious life. Recliffe-Maud talked of body, mind and spirit – in contrast, Aiming high for young people (2007) stays within the rather pedestrian framework offered by Every Child Matters (2004). The Government’s aim, it was stated in that document, was for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to: be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; and achieve economic well-being. When we scratch the surface of this aim – and look at the indicators and outcomes expected by government – then a rather narrow notion of well-being appears; one that looks rather more to concerns around emotional and physical health and safety, educational achievement and the contribution made to economic growth. Much of the ‘making a contribution to society’ mentioned in the English government’s ‘vision for young people’ relates to volunteering and the ’empowerment’ of people to influence services.

Fourth, the impact of the particular organizational and ideological frameworks on the proposed strategy was clear. Aiming high for young people reveals a continuing commitment a youth development agenda rather than to youth work. This can be seen comparing the English strategy to the Welsh National Youth Strategy which also appeared in 2007). It is a strategy designed to dovetail in with, on the one hand the development of Children’s trusts and services (largely dominated by a multi-disciplinary teams and a case-management/social work orientation) and, on the other, extended schooling.


Aiming high for young people, rather predictably, got a warm welcome from many of the larger organizations around English youth work – especially those already dependent upon government funding! It’s tone and the promise of additional monies caught the eye. It also fitted well with other elements of government activity – most especially the move into a youth development framework and with the establishment and expansion of children’s services and extended schools. However, the failure to recognize the contribution of youth work itself (in contrast to the Welsh National Strategy) and the inability to grasp the fundamental significance of civil society and community were deeply worrying.


Department of Education and Science (1969) Youth and Community Work in the 70’s, (The Fairbairn-Milson Report), London, HMSO.

Department for Education and Skills (2002) Transforming Youth Work – resourcing excellent youth services, London: Department for Education and Skills/Connexions.

HM Government (2004) Every Child Matters: Change for children. London: Department for Education and Skills.

HM Government (2005) Youth Matters, London: Department for Education and Skills.

HM Treasury (2007) Aiming high for young people. A ten year strategy for positive activities. London: HM Treasury/Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Ministry of Education (1960) The Youth Service in England and Wales (‘The Albemarle Report’), London, HMSO.

Scottish Executive (2003) Working and learning together to build stronger communities: draft community learning + development guidance – the Scottish Executive.

Scottish Executive (2007)

Last Updated on June 20, 2019 by