Positive for Youth: A critique

cover: Positive for Youth document

Positive for Youth: A critique. Lesley Buckland explores the English government’s Positive for Youth policy. She focuses on what ‘Positive or Youth’ means for young people in relation to youth work and informal education. She concludes the policy is the government’s attempt to ‘do something’ about the situation facing young people but without providing the necessary resources or addressing key structural issues.

Contents: introductionPositive for Youth on young peoplea vision for a society that is positive for youth • youth work and youth workersthe problem of facilitiesthe problem of employmentthe changing policy environmentthe maths – is it really about money?the impact on young peopleconclusionfurther reading and referenceshow to cite this piece

The much awaited Positive for Youth policy was published on December 19th 2011 following the issue of various discussion papers that, we are told, were ‘developed in partnership with experts from the youth sector’ (DfE, May 2011). These papers were circulated to named individuals, agencies, local authorities etc., and in many cases, according to Garath Symonds not always cascaded down to the workers on the front line (Symonds, Thinking Seriously about Youth Work Conference, 2012). Many of these ‘specific persons’ were already familiar to us, for example Paul Oginsky a key author of the National Citizen Service. A number were also afforded the opportunity to appear as a witness at the House of Commons Education Committee.

Clearly a lot of thought had gone into some of the discussion papers and it is disappointing that many of the issues that were raised did not make the final draft of the policy. For example, one of the papers, An education for the 21st century: A narrative for youth work today recognized that it is the youth work process that is a key factor in the development of young people, not just putting on activities (Bateman, Blacke, Davies et. al. 2011). Another discussion paper Positive for Youth: Young People’s Role in Society (DfE,May 2011) stated that public services and professionals help young people realize their ambitions. Yet throughout Positive for Youth it is clear that the main role that is anticipated from public services is that of commissioning, and it is anticipated that much of the work (especially more generic or open work) will be picked up by volunteers and voluntary organizations.

The key theme in Positive for Youth seems to be around what young people need to do for society (a sort of ‘your country needs you’ approach). Little attention is paid to any structural change that may facilitate ‘a more socially mobile and just society’ where ‘all young people have a stake in their communities’ (Loughton, Ministerial Foreword, 2011) and have the resources to achieve their aspirations. Of course we are not talking about all young people as this policy is clearly aimed at working with ‘those who are at risk of dropping out’ (ibid). The Positive for Youth policy seems also to be based on the premise that current youth provision is in some way failing young people yet no substantial evidence is presented to support this idea. There is a drive to ‘reform how services are delivered locally’ (HM Government Positive for Youth Executive Summary, 2011:8) and a commitment to create four youth innovation zones, which will carry out assessments to explore the options for ‘re-modelling services for young people’ (Devon County Council 09/01/2012).

So what, apart from the widely espoused need to save money, is really behind the most substantial change for almost 50 years to youth services?

Positive for Youth on young people

The English government is keen to point out that it recognises ‘most young people are doing well and enjoying life’ whilst ‘a very small minority of young people feel no sense of belonging and as a result do not respect the community’ (HM Government Positive for Youth Executive Summary, 2011:3). Whilst this is welcome news, the research upon which this is based (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2011) may not, however, be the most appropriate information to inform such a policy document such as Positive for Youth. The careful choice of language here deserves attention as neither ‘most’ nor ‘minority’ are quantifiable in numbers. Perhaps this is how the government can justify such limited resources being invested in young people whilst having such high expectations of what local councils will have to achieve. Whilst there is no statutory obligation to fund actual ‘youth services’, councils will be obliged to ensure they are complying with the government-specified outcomes for young people.

For those who do endeavour to read the full policy the numbers of young people being talked about becomes more quantifiable. Positive for Youth claims that according to the report Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (2011) ‘over 85%’ of teenagers in England today ‘report high life satisfaction’. (The HBSC report this figure as 80% in their executive summary). What it omits to say that this survey was from a sample of 11,13 and 15 year olds ‘who were in mainstream education at the time of the survey’ (HBSC, 2011:1). As Positive for Youth is primarily concerned with young people aged 13-19 we might have expected it to be mentioned that over 45% of 15-year-old girls and 23% of boys reported ‘feeling low’ at least once a week. Further, these were young people in mainstream education, so what about those who weren’t? It is significant that this report which is specifically aimed at 13-19 year olds utilises data to inform it’s strategies gathered from young people who are clearly do not represent the target group. Not only with regards to age but even in the fact that they are attending school.

At least, we could argue, the English government is aware that many young people in this country have very negative experiences of childhood, adolescence and making that transition into adulthood and the working world. Although there appears to have been an improvement in the academic attainment of young people from marginalised groups e.g. living in poverty, looked-after children, those with special educational needs, they are still not able to make inroads into society on a level platform. The Government claims that it ‘is committed to narrowing the gap in outcomes between the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and the rest’ (HM Government, 2011:4). So what changes is it proposing to achieve this?

Vision for a society that is Positive for Youth

The Government sets out a Vision for a Society that is Positive for Youth that is detached from even its own research i.e. many of the discussion papers, reports (and indeed practice) that have allegedly been utilised to inform this policy. For example according to their research ‘Young people want to be listened to and have their views heard, respected and acted upon… When their views cannot be acted upon they want a proper explanation of why this is the case’ (HM Government, 2011:6). Key elements of the current Government (and I am referring primarily to the Liberal Democrats) made attempts to solicit the views and support of young people prior to the last election. Arguably the most significant aspect of this concerned their promise not to raise higher education fees. When this undertaking was reneged upon no satisfactory explanation was offered to the young people. Where was the respect offered for their views when they protested and marched on Milbank? Which Government minister offered them an explanation as to why their views would not count for anything? Young people had actively engaged in what they believed to be a democratic process, many for the first time. They gave their views and trusted that they would be listened to. They were badly let down. As widely acknowledged, when people feel alienated from society and democratic processes this can result in what is considered by many as ‘bad behaviour’ (Alinsky 1972; Fromm 1941). This clearly manifested itself in the summer riots of 2011. One of the antecedent factors in determining the riots that was identified in the subsequent report was that ‘young people and community stakeholders identified “[they felt] excluded – no expectations/aspirations and lack of support”’. Young people felt that they in particular had been targeted for cuts in relation to their existing youth provision (Morrell, Scott et. al. 2011).

The Government suggests their vision will be achieved by providing young people with ‘opportunities to express their views and influence public decision making’ (HM Government, 2011: 12). This is nothing new. Many young people up and down the country have been afforded opportunities to express their views in a range of ways from Youth Councils, to questionnaires, to care leavers’ forums and Youth Parliaments. The problem isn’t in soliciting the views from young people, the difficulty is in how much weight is given to their views, and how they can actually influence public decision-making. Positive for Youth suggests a plethora of people and organisations with responsibility for turning this vision into a reality ranging from young people themselves, parents, media, community leaders, local authorities to teachers and youth workers. Much of the task of implementing this vision seeming to fall on the shoulders of the latter. The Coalition’s policy statement Positive for Youth (2011), mentions youth workers and youth work no less than 32 times (Stanton 2012).

Youth work and youth workers

The Government appeared to recognise that in many cases youth workers are best placed to facilitate this process, so why is the English government committed to cutting youth services on such an unprecedented scale? Is it that there is a lack of understanding of the youth work processes and the skills, knowledge and experience that enables youth workers to operate at this level with young people? Across the country youth services have been decimated, clubs closed, workers made redundant. So how is it intended that they are actually going to achieve this vision? It seems that the Government has an idea that youth work can easily (and cheaply) be provided by developing volunteers and commissioning services

Many youth workers come into the profession as volunteers However many volunteers and voluntary organisations had support from their local authority youth services in providing them with development and training opportunities for example. With large numbers of those people gone, and training budgets cut to the quick, who is going to be in the position to provide this support? Youth work comprises of much more than running short term projects and activities for young people (e.g. the National Citizen Service). It is the relationship between the worker and the young person that lies at the heart of work. This doesn’t happen overnight and has to be an on-going process to provide any meaningful outcome. There is no quick fix. There will be ‘numbers’ of people who engage in some of these short-term projects, but will they make a difference? What about the quality of the work? How much meaning or value will it have to the young person, and how is the Government going to monitor this if it is clear if it really isn’t sure on what it’s supposed to be monitoring?

According to the research that supposedly informed the policy young people, ‘Trusted professionals…including teachers, youth workers and religious leaders’ (HM Government,2011:6) played a significant part in many of their lives. If the Government is committed to, as it professes, ‘listening to the views of young people’, why is it failing yet again to act on this information it has heard? With the commissioning out of youth services, running provision with volunteers, and the massive hike in student fees it appears that the Government is doing it’s best to de-professionalize youth workers. Just at the point when the National Youth Agency recognised that the minimum requirement to qualify people to work with young people in such an influential role should be at degree level, the hike in student fees alongside the likelihood of limited paid work at the end of it is very likely to consign youth work to church groups and voluntary organisations run with well-meaning and enthusiastic volunteers. There are some highly skilled youth workers within these sectors, however they are often the ones that have had the exposure to good quality training and personal development themselves (often provided indirectly or directly by local authorities). This is unlikely to be available in the future. More worryingly the government is committed to ‘…restore commonsense and proportionality’ by ‘reducing unnecessary burdens related to vetting and checking adults who come forward to volunteer to work with young people’ (HM Government Executive Summary 2011: 5). Whose ‘common-sense’ we are talking about here? I am assuming that by ‘un-necessary burdens’ the English government were referring to Criminal Record Bureau checks, which admittedly can be very long winded to process. However, it is the system that needs overhauling rather than the requirement for vetting. System problems should not be an excuse to cut corners in order to get people working with young people more quickly. As the Munro Report (Munro 2011) made clear, many of the ‘burdens’ that professionals working with young people suffer from concern collecting enormous amounts of often unnecessary data for the government. The Munro report made recommendations that it the systems needed changing rather than cutting corners.

The problem of facilities

So let’s say best-case scenario a group of competent, experienced and qualified volunteers does try to establish a youth club, where are they going to meet? Unless they are privileged to have access to their own buildings/halls, as many church groups do (although whether they would be as ‘attractive’ as young people have expressed they want is up for debate) they will most probably find themselves in a position of having to solicit premises. Many local authority buildings have been sold off (or given up) as running a building is one of the biggest cost implications for youth work. Obviously not all youth work takes place in a building, but much of it does. The English government proposed giving ‘community groups the right to bid to take over the running of local council services’ and came up with a whole range of ways to access money more easily in order to grow. One of these initiatives is Social Impact Bonds that will be facilitated by Big Society Capital (formerly the Big Society Bank). The government was to invest £600 million (made up of £400 million from dormant bank accounts and approximately £200 million from the “Merlin” group (the big four high street banks) (Chandiramani 2012). It was proposed that they will not administer the funds directly but that the CATALYST GROUP (chaired by the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services) will be involved – in part by looking to add to the amount for investment by soliciting funds from philanthropists and other charitable fundraisers. They will then loan this money (this is an investment) to various groups wishing to set up youth or community projects, and services (often previously run by local authorities). They are expected to ‘deliver’ both on the basis of making a positive social impact as well as making money. These are loans, they incur interest, and whether this is paid directly to the government or to CATALYST was unclear. However what does seem apparent is that there is a move away from charities and local groups being able to directly access grants from funding charities which they wouldn’t have had to pay back with interest, and a move towards brokerage. This will leave the voluntary sector with even less money.

The myplace initiative was to continue with its capital programme to build more ‘world class’ places for young people to spend their leisure time in (Durham University & YMCA George Williams College 2011: 17). The buildings may or may not be ‘world class’ but the question remains as to who is going to run these centres and pay for running costs etc. For example The Salmon Centre in Bermondsey, one of the first myplace centres, reported an 80% loss of funding after a year in operation, resulting in plans to radically reduce staff numbers as a result. This is a centre already heavily dependent on volunteers (Jozwiak 2010).

The problem of employment

According to the HESA survey in 2010 almost 28% of UK graduates who left university in 2007 were still not in full-time employment three and a half years later. This figure has not improved, according to more recent statistics, of the 2009/2010 cohort 37% were not in full-time employment. Of the 63% who have found employment only 31% were in what is termed ‘Associate Professional and Technical Jobs’. This is hardly surprising given that the most common destination for both DLHE and LFS graduates to be employed in was Public Administration, Education and Health (Kitchen, Lloyd, Vignoles, Finch 2008: 1). So although much of the focus has been, and is still pretty much, dominated by the drive for young people to achieve high standards of academic attainment, it is evident that this alone will not necessarily enable them to get a job at the end of it. There is a widely held belief that this is because many young people are not ‘work ready’; they do not have the skills that are needed to access the job market, they lack experience in the real work place. As a consequence there has been much emphasis put on volunteering opportunities to afford young people this experience. However according to the English government ‘The proportion of young people aged 16-19 who engaged in voluntary work in 2010-2011 (42%) was higher than the population as a whole’ (HM Government 2011: 3). The Citizenship Survey (April 2010-March2011) revealed that 25% of people volunteered (formally) at least once a month. So clearly if almost half of young people volunteer anyway, this is not having a significant impact on youth unemployment. Likewise there are not many students in full-time higher education who do not have to work part-time. According to Finch et al (2006) at least 56% of students in full-time education have part-time jobs, so could it be something other than academic qualifications and experience then? Maybe it is lack of jobs? Between November 2011 and January 2012 45,000 jobs were created in the private sector whilst over the same period 37,000 were lost in the public sector, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However the long term view is less rosy as at the year end December 2011 overall the private sector had created 226,000 new jobs compared to the loss of 270,000 jobs in the public sector. There is also the type of job created to be considered, for example in March 2012 Tesco announced the creation of 20,000 new jobs over the next two years. Unfortunately, there is very little other detail on whether these will be full or part-time jobs for example. Is there really job creation in the private sector or is it more a question of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’? The public sector has been outsourcing services (commissioning) for quite a while now. Many of these new private contractors are in fact formed by what were previously public sector workers. A growing number of private organisations have been created as people (often ex- public sector workers) have been tendering from anything to run youth projects to ‘free schools’. The public sector has been contracting services for years e.g. cleaning services in schools and hospitals, household waste collection centres etc. Sadly, not only is it not always the cheapest option it is not necessarily the one that meets the needs of the people most effectively.

The changing policy environment

‘Young People’s Views’ (Source: Key Issues for young people and parents, HM Government,2011:6)

Young people’s views Government response to date
Families and Parents are very important influences …particularly to older teenagers, is the role of friends and peers
Young people want to be listened to… when their views cannot be acted upon they want a proper explanation of why this is the case Liberal democrat party solicit views and target young people prior to election, promise not to raise tuition fees. They are complicit in raising tuition fees, no proper explanation given to young people
Most young people feel a high degree of responsibility for themselves…they know they need to respect boundaries…but they want their views and wishes to be respected.
Young people want safe and attractive places to spend their leisure time, and available and affordable means of transport Previous government’s myplace initiative put on hold. Continued with capital funding, number of projects reduced from 70 to 63. Emphasis changed from universal services to targeted work. (The myplace programme emerged from the Labour government’s Aiming High for Young People: a ten year strategy for positive activities (HM Treasury 2007)).
Services must be accessible. Welc/oming, and respectful…offering confidential advice and support
Trusted professionals and other significant adults…including teachers, youth workers Public sector jobs cut, youth services cut disproportionately, qualified, experienced professional youth workers made redundant
Young people want access to advice and support from places they already go to such as their school, college, or youth centre. They would like all their services available in one place ‘One Stop Shops’ largely closed with the demise of the Connexions service, many youth centres closed. National Careers Service hotline established
Young people want more support from schools to support them in finding out about potential careers
Young people want support from parents in helping them achieve goals without dictating choices to them Government has dictated that children must stay at school compulsory until 18. Government has dictated that parents are responsible for enforcing this.
Young people want adults to recognise the modern world in which they live and to use relevant and creative methods fro communicating and stimulating debate with them
Young people feel negatively portrayed in the media
Young people are concerned about the gap between those who are materially well off and those who aren’t. Those with less are worried about being labelled as poor and written off by society as failures
Young people worry about potential debts from higher education and their future employment and career prospects Increase tuition fees, encourage (more) volunteering, National Citizen Service

Positive for Youth stresses throughout that ‘Government cannot realise this vision on its own’ (HMG 2011: 13) yet the fact that ‘Government’ appears at the end of a long list of parties that can contribute to helping young people ‘to have a strong sense of belonging and succeed’ is no coincidence. This indicates that it will be communities and individuals that are left very much on their own to sort out their own problems and ensure their needs are met, whilst not having access necessarily to either the skills or the resources to do this. This is further confirmed by acknowledging that the vision it has set for itself is strategic and monitoring. It’s premise throughout the ‘Big Society Agenda’ has been about empowering people, empowering communities however from the role the government intends to take it is clear that it is more a question of offloading responsibility for the most vulnerable in our society. There is a move from:

· Grants to Loans

· Welfare (state) to Private Companies

· Social responsibility to Corporate investment.

The former being people driven, whilst the latter being profit driven.

One of these strategies clearly identified in the policy is ‘Building Character and a sense of belonging’ (HM Government 2011: 32). The August Riots in England report (op. cit.) said much about young people not belonging or feeling any sense of attachment with the communities in which they live. The coalition recognises that ‘supporting young people to develop a strong sense of belonging is also crucial to developing a healthy society’ (ibid) and one of the key ways in which it envisages providing volunteering opportunities to young people and helping them to develop skills necessary to make them more employable in an attempt to address youth unemployment, is through the newly launched National Citizen Service. Paul Oginsky, one of the key authors of this scheme, was also one of those whose opinion was solicited by the Commons Select Committee on the Positive for Youth Policy.

In spite of the disappointing uptake last summer (Wimpress 2012) and a less than favourable evaluation of the scheme by the University of Strathclyde (2009) which was commissioned by the Conservatives, the English government is determined to plough on with this regardless. This is somewhat alarming considering that the very people it was aimed to attract, the most economically and socially disadvantaged, are the very ones that this scheme is failing (University of Strathclyde,2009). The scheme has attracted much criticism from youth workers (St.Croix, 2011) and politicians (House of Commons Education Committee, 2010-12) alike and on this rare occasion there are some points that both parties agree on. The National Citizen Service is nothing new or revolutionary and is comparable to schemes such as The Prince’s Trust, Raleigh International or Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, to name a few. Predominantly the underpinning methodology is youth work, but just as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards scheme was originally to provide opportunities for personal growth and development for the least advantaged people in our society it became quickly monopolised by the middle classes. The report by Strathclyde University drew much attention to the fact that in the pilot schemes not only was recruitment from disadvantaged groups the most challenging, drop out from these groups of young people were the highest, there are many key indicators that suggest history could indeed repeat itself. However, the main issue that both parties tend to agree on is the economics of the scheme. Why at a time when youth services are being closed and youth workers made redundant are new schemes being launched that in reality will cost just as much, economically, and could possibly damage the lives even further of many disadvantaged young people by removing services and more importantly workers that they are already familiar and have already established relationships with.

The maths – is it really about money and improving the life chances for young people?

According to Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead (Youth & Policy Conference, March 2012) the Commons Education Select Committee identified that if the National Citizen Service scheme was taken up by half the young people it was offered to, this would cost the Government £335 million per year compared with the more than the £350 million spent on youth services in 2009-2010. This is just one of the many pots of money that the Government will be designating to organisations of its choice, for example £4 million will be made available to V – the national youth volunteering charity, over £40 million to support volunteering, giving and volunteering infrastructure through the Social Action Fund, Innovation in Giving Fund etc. (HM Government 2011: 41). This shift to National Citizen’s Service may be an indication that youth services were not ‘fit for purpose’. Yet there is little evidence that this and previous policies including Connexions and myplace were based in any substantial evidence from practice. In many respects they have all been vanity projects that fail to tackle fundamental ills like unemployment, the housing crisis and poverty and inequality.

Youth unemployment is at its highest for many years, affecting over 1 million young people, and you can hardly blame parents, schools, youth services etc. for this when fundamentally there is a lack of jobs. It is at best unfair and at worst invidious to lay the fault at the feet of young people not achieving their potential, especially when so many of them have but have still been denied places at university, left university with no job at the end of it, or left school with a ‘good enough’ all round education wanting to work but being unable to get even the most low paid job as they find themselves in direct competition with older people who are vastly more experienced. The cut to the EMA has ensured many of the most economically deprived young people have no opportunity to stay in education, even if they wanted to. It appears to me that the main reason for this change in direction is down to choice. The Government wants to choose who it does business with, and I mean this in the truest sense of the word. It cannot be seen as coincidental that several of the private businesses (under the vague disguise of charities in many cases) have been able to directly influence government policy (St.Croix 2011). This gives the government far more control about how they run these services and is in complete contrast to the ethos that informed the creation of public services. I have always believed that as a worker in the public sector (and I’m referring to both my time working in a local authority as well as in the voluntary sector) that you are accountable to the government for spending public money wisely but you have a duty to serve the needs of the people you work with. This was always the tricky bit for managers as often the needs they identified required addressing were not the same as the governments agenda, these competing tensions made for a healthy and critical delivery of services. With youth services being commissioned out to the private sector, who at the end of the day are in it to make a profit, where will be the motivation to put people over profit. Youth services used to be free and universal, this is not the case for the National Citizen Service, and depending on which organisation is running it from The Challenge to Vinspired (and all the rest in-between) can mean a cost of anything from £20 -£90 The University of Strathclyde saw this as a barrier to participation.

So what will be the impact on young people?

Fewer places to go – even though there is a commitment to continue the myplace programme it is still a reduction in the many planned centres that had been scheduled to be built under the last government. Whilst the future of those that are to be built is still uncertain as there are no guarantees that there will be enough staff to run them. The number of Myplace centres does not equate to the number of clubs and provisions already closed due to the cuts.

Reduction in quality of staff – many experienced and skilled staff have been lost already, these professionals were not only crucial in providing youth services but were also an essential part in training volunteers and facilitating learning. Without training budgets, or experienced skilled staff to learn from what opportunities are going to be available for practitioners to develop. One of my first year students recently went for an assessment to become a leader on The Challenge project over the summer (The Challenge are running one of the NCS programmes). She was dismayed as when she returned from her assessment she claimed ‘apart from one other person of the 5 who attended the training assessment with me none of them had a clue about young people’ (Jackson, YMCA Student, George Williams College) she explained how none of the other candidates had even worked with young people before, yet they all got offered jobs.

More state control – young people may experience further alienation from society and their communities now that they are being told that they will have to remain in full-time education until they are 18.

Exposure to greater risks – one of my biggest concerns is the proposed relaxation of CRB checks; it feels that this is not a decision informed by adequate knowledge in this area. I believe this may put some of the most vulnerable people in our society at much greater risk.

Inequality – within the UK (and many northern economies) there has been a worrying widening of inequality in many areas of live – and this is deeply unfair, and reflects fundamental failures in both economic and political systems (see Stiglitz 2013). The economic crisis that began with the breakdown of the banking system in 2008 has disproportionately impacted on younger people – and Positive for Youth adds to the problem. What is appearing is two-tiered provision depending on your wealth. Local authorities, where they still commission generic youth services, turn largely to the voluntary sector. The civil society organisations that have traditionally been involved in youth work have taken a particular hit over the last few years. They often do not have the orientation nor the infrastructure to engage with commissioning. Many smaller clubs and organisations have withered away, leaving uniformed organisations and religious organisations as the main local providers of leisure time opportunities for young people. Three things come into play here. First, these organisations have also suffered losses in income that can be used for youth work. Second, many of these organisations are in more affluent areas. Third, if young people live in an area in which a faith based organisation is the main voluntary youth worker provider and they happen to subscribe to a different set of beliefs, this may mean that they are excluded. Local authorities are under no obligation to provide youth services, and given the government line is ‘where practically possible’ this means many areas could be left with no effective provision. It is likely that the number of commercial organisations offering activities and experiences for young people will increase to respond to demand for those who can afford to pay for provision. The number of private organisations involved in National Citizen’s Service (NCS) will increase, as will those offering adventure activities and things like the ‘Camp America’ model. Social impact bonds will also see more private youth organisations set up. Young people will have to pay for youth work. ‘The Government has confirmed that it will retain the duty on local authorities set out in section 507B of the Education 2006 to secure sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for the improvement of the wellbeing of 13 to 19 year olds, so far as is reasonably practicable’ (Consultation on Draft Revised Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young People’s Wellbeing, March 2012). It seems whilst there may be an obligation to provide certain targeted services, there will be no obligation to provide anything else if the local authority can justify that they are not able to.


Positive for Youth clearly exposes the government’s agenda for more social control rather than less social control, more so than even the Big Society agenda. Far from being about moving away from the ‘nanny state’ and towards a more empowered society it looks more to do with social control without accountability. When a dominant group recognises that specific practices are ‘economically advantageous and politically useful’ in maintaining their position, they come to be colonized and ‘maintained by global mechanisms and the entire state system’ (Foucault 1980 cited in Brookfield 2005: 127). This is a theme that has been developed most recently by Ferdinand Mount (a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher). He has argued that oligarchic tendencies in both UK economic and political systems is causing fundamental harm (Mount 2013). The English government is keen to be seen to be doing something for young people, whilst many of them are not yet at an age to vote their parents do, and in the light of the summer riots of 2011 and rising youth unemployment it has to be seen to act. Positive for Youth is their attempt to ‘do something’ by abdicating responsibility and placing accountability for ensuring young people are in work, school, not rioting etc. entirely in the hands of individuals and communities. This is to be done but without the appropriate resources, and alongside a failure to address key structural issues such as job creation and investment that it is in their power, and as our elected leaders their responsibility, to do.


Allinsky,Saul, D. (1972) Rules for Radicals: a pragmatic primer for realistic radicals, USA: Wildwood

Bateman, Blacke, Davies et al (2011) An education for the 21st century: A Narrative for Youth Work today


Chandiramani, R. (2012) ‘Bang for The Buck’ in Children & Young People Now available @ http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/feature/1071704/bang-buck.

DfE (2011) Positive for Youth Discussion Paper: Young people’s role in society available at http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/youngpeople/Positive%20for%20Youth/b00200933/positive-for-youth-the-statement.

Consultation on Draft Revised Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young People’s Wellbeing (March 2012). available @ http://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=conSection&consultationId=1811&dId=1174&sId=7594&numbering=1&itemNumber=1&menu=1.

Devon County Council (09/01/2012) Devon chosen as ‘innovation zone’ for new youth programme available @ http://www.devon.gov.uk/index/councildemocracy/deliveringservices/directorates_and_departments/chiefexecutives/communication/newscentre/press-releases/press-release.htm?id=4289.

Durham University & YMCA George Williams College (2011). myplace evaluation – final report Department for Education available@ http://www.education.gov.uk/publications.

Faucault in Brookfield Stephen D. (2005). The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Finch, S., Jones, A., Parfrement, J., Cebulla, A. (NatCen), Connor, H., Hillage, J., Pollard, E., Tyers, C., Hunt, W. and Loukas, G. (IES) (2006) Student Income and Expenditure Survey 2004/05. DfES Research Report RR725, March 2006. Available from: http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/pdflibrary/rr725.pdf.

Fromm, E. (1941). ‘Overcoming Alienation’ in Brookfield Stephen D. (2005) The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC): (October 2011) World Health Organisation Collaborative Cross National Study Executive Summary University of Hertfordshire available @ http://www.hbscengland.com/reports/.

HESA (2011). Statistical first release 162 June 2011.

House of Commons Education Committee (2011). Services for Young people Third Report of Session 2010-12 Volume II The House of Commons London: The Stationery Office Ltd.

Mearns, Ian MP, March 15th 2012, Youth & Policy Conference: Thinking Seriously about Youth Work and Policy YMCA George Williams College: London.

Jackson, L. (2012). YMCA George Williams College: London.

Jozwiak, G. (Tuesday 7th 2010 December). ‘Flagship Salmon Centre in Staff cull as funds dry up’ in Children & young People Now. www.cypnow.co.uk/news

Morrell, G,. Scott, S., Mc Neish, D., and Webster ,S. (2011). The August Riots in England:Understanding the involvement of young people NatCen:London available@ www.natcen.ac.uk/study/study-of-august-riots-in-england.

Mount, F. (2012). The new few: Or, a very British oligarchy. London: Simon & Schuster.

Munro, E. (2011). The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report A Child Centred System London: HMSO available@ http://www.education.gov.uk/publications.

St Croix, T, de (2011) Struggles and silences: Policy, Youth Work and the National Citizen Service available@ http://youthandpolicy.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=37&Itemid=53&limitstart=4.

Stanton, N. and Crompton, D. (2012). Positive for Youth Work? Reforming Young People’s Priorities Conference at York University.

Stiglitz, J. E. (2013). The price of inequality. London: Penguin.

University of Strathclyde (2009). Final Report on the Evaluation of the Challenge Programme 2009 for the Conservative Party by Innovative Routes to Learning and the Applied Research Centre at the University of Strathclyde.

Wimpress,C. (2012). National Citizen Service Confirmed for Summer 2012 with 30,000 Places. available @ http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/01/national-citizen-service-summer-2012-nick-hurd_hurd_1313612.html.

Acknowledgement: Picture: Stamp commemorating the International Youth Forum 1961. Photographed by Joseph Morris, 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/austin80s/2303492008/

How to cite this piece: Buckland, L. 2013). ‘Positive for Youth. A critique’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [ [https://infed.org/mobi/positive-for-youth-a-critique/. Retrieved: insert date].

Last Updated on May 10, 2013 by infed.org