the albemarle report: justification and aims of the youth service

Chiltern Youth Club, Amersham

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The Albemarle Report (1960) provided youth work in England and Wales with a very influential rationale and framework – and was a key element in substantially increasing funding for youth work. Here we reproduce Chapter 3 of the report.

contents: preface · introduction · justification · aims and ideals · principles and practice

The Committee responsible for this report was chaired by the Countess of Albemarle and was appointed by the Minister of Education in November, 1958. It was given the following terms of reference:

To review the contribution which the Youth Service of England and Wales can make in assisting young people to play their part in the life of the community, in the light of changing social and industrial conditions and of current trends in other branches of the education service; and to advise according to what priorities best value can be obtained for the money spent.

The Committee’s report was presented to Parliament in February 1960. For a discussion of the background of the Report and its significance go to: The Albemarle Report and the development of youth work in England and Wales

Chapters from the report:  chapter 1: the youth service yesterday and today; chapter 3: justification and aims of the youth service; chapter 5: activities and facilities; and Chapter 10:  recommendations and priorities

[page 35] 127. The need for a Youth Service cannot simply be assumed. It is possible to argue cogently that public money should not be spent in providing what are largely recreational amenities for those who have finished their full-time education and are earning wages. If they are prepared to pay, practically any amenity young people may want is available to them. This is a free society (the argument continues), leave them alone in it.

  1. We are sure ourselves that there should be a Youth Service; we are equally sure that its justification has to be questioned as radically as possible. The fact that a Youth Service already exists is not at this point relevant. We think it right therefore to set down what seems to us, drawing upon the many valuable statements submitted to us, the justification for a publicly-supported Youth Service. But first it will be well to say, briefly, what a Youth Service is not.
  2. It will already be clear that we not underestimate the problem of youthful delinquency nor the extent to which a good Youth Service may incidentally help to alleviate it. But to make this a ground for the existence of a Youth Service is either to exaggerate the number of delinquents or to underestimate the way in which a Youth Service may be of value to the great majority who will never enter a juvenile or adult court. The Service is not negative, a means of “keeping them off the streets” or “out of trouble.
  3. However admirable a Youth Service may be it is, of course, neither possible nor desirable that everyone, or even the great majority of young people at any one time, should take part in it. Many will remain happily and fruitfully “unattached”. “. Many more will in fact be “attached” than show on official returns. There are a host of valuable submerged activities, not shown on any returns—local cycling clubs, neighbourhood football clubs, and so on. In these grass-roots local organisations young people can, without formal statements of purpose, show remarkable self-reliance, co-operation and tolerance. It seems to us true, however, that many who are not now “attached” either officially or unofficially could, if properly approached, be attached and benefit from the attachment.


  1. To those who doubt the need for a Youth Service we would put this question. The State makes extensive provision for social development, parallel with its provision for intellectual development, up to whatever age young people remain in full-time education: is it right that this social provision should end so abruptly for the less intellectual, simply because they have been withdrawn from formal education? One can contrast the standard of premises usual in organisations within the Youth Service with those of a residential hostel or undergraduates’ common room in almost any redbrick university. Again, many secondary modern schools are now generously [page 36] provided with out-of-class amenities (equipment, the use of pleasant rooms for club meetings, an informal library). Anyone who has experienced the atmosphere of a good secondary modern school of this type must regret the comparative poverty of social and communal provision for boys and girls who thereafter go immediately into working life. The age of compulsory school leaving will at some time, perhaps within a few years, be raised to 16. Presumably the existing level of informal provision will then be carried to that point—and presumably then virtually stop. If these informal activities are needed by 15-year-oids today and will be needed by 16-year-olds tomorrow; if they are needed by those up to 21 years of age today (so long as they are in full-time education), they are undoubtedly needed by all those whose intellectual equipment has not been sufficient to keep them under the comfortable umbrella of full-time education.
  2. It is recognised that the more academically gifted can gain from good social provision: premises which encourage corporate life and activities; helpful and understanding contact with intelligent adults. Other young people go out at the age of 15 into a society so confusing that even adults have difficulty in finding their direction in it. There is a striking lack of logic in an arrangement which gives the benefits of social education to those who remain with the ordered society of an institution for full-time education, but gives only the most niggling provision to those whose need for such resources is so much greater.
  3. Thirty years ago comparatively little was provided in what were then called elementary schools to meet the informally educative needs of young people. A great imaginative leap has since been taken, and new schools, more comprehensively planned, more variously staffed, more flexibly equipped, have been financed from the public purse. An adequate Youth Service will require an imaginative leap no less than that which is now transforming our secondary modern schools. We believe no less is needed.

Aims and ideals

  1. We do not, as we shall hope to show, underestimate the value of formal educational effort within the Youth Service. But we believe that the primary basis of such a service is social or pastoral. This is, of course, an educational purpose in a sense wider than that usually understood, and has been comprehensively expressed in Sir John Maud’s (a former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education) well-known statement of Youth Service aims: “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”.
  2. We believe this statement should, to gain its full force, be set against the contemporary background we have described—of a society at once so complex, so formal and so fluid that its conflicting pressures can substantially discourage good development. The aim of the Youth Service is not to remove tensions so as to reach towards some hypothetical condition of “adjustment” to individual or social life. It is to help towards ensuring that those tensions which are social accidents, often both [page 37] fruitless and oppressive, shall not submerge the better possibilities of children during their adolescence. The Service should seek first to provide places for association in which young people may maintain and develop, in the face of a disparate society, their sense of fellowship, of mutual respect and tolerance. Such centres may also help to counteract the increasing educational and professional stratification of society. Those who are intellectually or financially well-endowed have as much to gain as others from the opportunity for mixed fellowship, as much to learn from as to give to others. It is very difficult to run a club whose members have mixed educational backgrounds, but it is exceptionally well worth trying.
  3. Yet, as we have said, an adolescent today moves into a society at once formidably restricted and surprisingly permissive, and finds himself canvassed by many agencies which seek to alter his attitudes in ways congenial to them. He needs to develop his capacity for making sound judgments; he needs, to take only one instance, opportunities for realising that some things—slower and more hardly won—are nevertheless more rewarding than the excitements offered in each day’s passing show. This is to us the basis of the case for specific education and training within the Youth Service. It does not conflict with the aim suggested earlier, but rather complements it. But clearly this kind of specific education must be imaginatively conceived and directed. Association in itself may be useless for young people, or it may be immensely educational, according to the imagination of the leadership. And merely formal education may satisfy the letter but kill the spirit of educational development in youth. If educational activity is flexibly planned, we believe it can both connect relevantly with the experience of the students and be tough and demanding. We do not think most young people seek soft options, but that they do want a clear aim in their efforts.
  4. Association of the right kind and training of the right kind—to these two primary aims of a Youth Service we would add a third: challenge. This aspect can inform all others, and we discuss it at greater length in Chapter 5. Here we would stress only two points; that many adolescents have a strong need to find something they can do, individually or in a chosen group, which they feel to be deeply worth while beyond pleasure or personal reward; and that it is immensely important that young people, of different kinds and levels of ability, should have opportunities to display and to respect forms of pre-eminence in fields other than the academic.
  5. To sum up: the question now should not be, ought there to be a Youth Service, but can this country any longer make do with one so plainly ill-equipped to meet the needs of the day. In this time of unprecedented plenty, the lives of many young people are likely to be poorer at 20 than one might have guessed on seeing them eagerly leave school at 15. Young people have never been more in a crowd—and never more alone; without a Youth Service many of them would not be more free but less free. A properly supported Youth Service can help many more individuals to find their own way better, personally and socially. This country must choose to have a Youth Service adequately provided for these most important purposes. [page 38]

Principles and practice

  1. We have tried in the preceding chapter to look at the world as young people see it. We try now to stand in the shoes of those who work among young people, and again draw largely on the evidence given to us.
  2. Many of them, voluntary or paid workers, have many years of experience behind them. Usually they have come into the Youth Service the hard way, through work in clubs and voluntary organisations. They have deprived themselves of adult company and enjoyments. In noisy halls and dingy rooms they have struggled against the apathy of the nation, and often against the indifference of young people, to keep going and to build up organisations which they (and at times it must have seemed they alone) recognised to be necessary for society as well as for young people themselves. They knew that they must live and work to high principles, and came to see that certain attitudes were just as necessary too on the part of those who benefited, if the work was -to succeed even in the most limited way. They had to ask for loyalty, a sense of responsibility, good comradeship, a conception however imprecise of a larger community which must in some measure be served. The more sharply the leaders saw these needs the more urgently they tried to stir their club members to feel them too. It is a matter of history that strong ethical feelings moved the pioneering voluntary organisations to undertake their hard practical jobs over the years. Without those ethical feelings they might never have come into existence or grown at all.
  3. To this zeal we pay strong tribute. Yet over a period of time there is a tendency for ethical impulses to lose their immediacy and drive, and to seem to young people unrelated to the situations in which they find themselves. Young people can today, therefore, turn away from many good enterprises especially designed for them, because the forms and phrases in which they are presented seem highfaluting or irrelevant. At a time when many young people feel tempted to reject adult experience and authority it is plain that the Youth Service should not seem to offer something packaged—a “way of life”, a “set of values”, a “code”,“, as though these were things which came ready-made, upon the asking, without being tested in living experience.
  4. Young people themselves must in the last resort choose to allow adults to try and help. There can be no simple transmitting of a priori values, because to the expanding energies and enquiries of adolescence most values are not a priori. If they feel the need, young people must have the liberty to question cherished ideas, attitudes and standards, and if necessary to reject them. We have stressed this point because we think one of the more important limitations in some parts of the Youth Service today may be called a failure in communication. Because of this gap we believe more are now unclubbed than are in fact unclubbable.
  5. We touch directly now on two related points on which we earnestly hope not to be misunderstood. The first has to do with the spiritual aims of the Youth Service and in particular with the fact that many statements of purpose (not only those of denominational organisations) include reference to the need for “communicating Christian values”. “. Obviously we are deeply sympathetic to this aim, and indeed the Education Act of 1944 lays on local education authorities the duty “to contribute towards the spiritual, [page 39] moral, mental, and physical development of the community…“ (section 7). Denominational or specifically committed organisations must remain free to give expression to their spiritual ideals in their youth work. For the Youth Service as a whole, however, we think this way of embodying aims is mistaken. For many young people today the discussion of “spiritual values” or “Christian values” chiefly arouses suspicion. In view of the background described in this and the preceding chapter such a response is not altogether surprising. We are not, we need hardly add, implying that young people are immoral or unidealistic: we are saying that the shaky or contradictory expression of “spiritual values” within society as a whole and the weakening of public speech are so persuasive as to cause many young people to reject habitually a direct approach of this kind. And those with more independent minds are likely to reject the more forcefully. We have been told of those who will say directly that the Youth Service should not be a disguised backdoor to religious beliefs or a form of “moral exploitation “. We would repeat therefore that it is on the whole better for principles to be seen shining through works than for them to be signalised by some specific spiritual assertion.
  6. We would make similar observations on the frequently stated aim of “training young people in citizenship”. When so much in the public life seems suspect to them, is it surprising that only a few respond to this aim in this form? As one witness told us, “Citizenship is a word that has little meaning for young people”. Playing one’s part as a citizen is highly important, and the activities of the Youth Service are relevant to it. But the beginnings of “citizenship” can be seen as much in the subtlety and tact of social relations in a good youth club, even in a tough area, as in straight-forward discussions of good citizenship. These qualities cannot be easily translated into the conditions of public life today, but they are a good foundation for such a translation.
  7. Much in the foregoing raises the involved question of communication in a society which has been to a large extent hierarchically divided in its speech and is now becoming, especially through the activities of “mass communications” “, almost demotically “classless”. “. W. H. Auden has some lines to the effect that:

“All words like peace and love,
All sane affirmative speech
Has been soiled, profaned, debased,
To a horrid mechanical screech.”

We believe this is largely true and that it affects young people’s response to what is said to them even if they are not intellectually sophisticated. We have been struck by the great number of occasions, in the evidence presented to us, on which words such as the following have been used as though they were a commonly accepted and valid currency: “service”, “, “dedication”, “, “leadership”, “, “character building”. “. Again, we wish not to be misunderstood. We in no way challenge the value of the concepts behind these words, or their meaningfulness to those who use them. Nor do we think that young people are without these qualities, or that they cannot be strengthened. But we are sure that these particular words now connect little with the realities of life as most young people see them; they do not seem to “speak to their condition”. They recall the hierarchies, [page 40] the less interesting moments of school speech-days and other occasions of moral exhortation. Yet though many young people may be inclined to turn away if they are asked for “service”  in the relationships of their neighbourhoods and at the work-bench they often show “service” in action. We believe that they are grateful for help in seeing, defining and acting according to moral standards, but that they wish to see these relevantly embodied, and that this relevance must be shown in language. They are often today in a peculiar wasteland; by instinct they reject many of the false values offered by elements in their society; but they are unable to accept the terms used by more disinterested and sincerely devoted people. Their failure to attend youth clubs may be less often a sign of apathy than of the failure of their seniors properly to adjust their forms of language.

  1. Of the host of general principles behind a good Youth Service (most of which we hope to embody in our recommendations) we would stress two here, variety and flexibility, because of their special relevance to the situation just described. If the centralisation of social life, whilst providing a greater abundance of material things than ever before, tends to narrow the kinds of choice, to centralise also taste, then the Youth Service should seek to irrigate these choices. In this connection we are struck by the success of some areas in introducing certain activities, traditionally thought of as a preserve of the “upper” groups of society, to mixed groups of young people (see Chapter 5) and the attempt of some authorities to enlist the greater prosperity of young people by providing comparatively expensive hobby courses of a high standard for them. And we are persuaded of the truth of the claim made by some specialist organisations, with no specific ideological or denominational purpose (e.g. sports organisations, the Youth Hostels Association) that their facilities are indirectly of considerable value to the personal and social development of their members. Flexibility involves realising that young people have fierce but often temporary interests, that they experience what one witness called “passionate patches” “, and that one may cater for and develop from these without quickly assuming that adolescents have butterfly minds; that, in fact, one should be ready to provide for short-term, “used-up” activities. It follows also that, in the interests of variety and for other reasons we discuss later, we are strongly in favour of retaining in general the existing mixed pattern of provision, between voluntary and statutory bodies. At this point we would add only this: that real variety is not achieved simply by having a number of organisations with different constitutions and names. There is today a greater variety of names among voluntary organisations than of significantly different approaches.
  2. In this stress on flexibility and variety we do not intend to open the gate to any activity without reference to its objectives and standards. Nor, in asking for a wider understanding of psychological and social tensions in adolescence, are we recommending an abdicating assimilation to the adolescent’s view of the world. Youth work is peculiarly challenging precisely because it requires a tense day-to-day walking on a razor-edge between sympathy and surrender. The reactions of adolescence are not the last word on the condition of contemporary society; however unsuccessful adults may sometimes be in embodying them, the values they profess are not in fact “all brainwashing”. “[page 41]
  3. This chapter and the one before it have been chiefly about gaps: about the gap between what is provided for the social and recreational life of young people so long as they are in formal education, and what is provided thereafter; about the gap between the challenges and opportunities for achievement presented to the intellectually gifted, and those presented to others; about the gap between what home, church or school may tell them about the nature of life, and what they glean from a host of other sources; about the gap between the speech of disinterested adults, and what they feel is the real language of life; about the gap between what the Youth Service might do if properly supported, and what it is able to achieve today. We – believe that it is of the first importance that these gaps and these needs should be understood, not only by those directly concerned with the Youth Service but by society as a whole.

First published as Chapter 3 of Ministry of Education (1960) The Youth Service in England and Wales (‘The Albemarle Report’), London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

This piece has been reproduced here by the informal education homepage under licence from from the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland. The informal education homepage holds a licence to reproduce public service information and another to reproduce Parliamentary material.

First placed in the archives: July 2002