Youth Matters – the English ‘Green Paper for youth’ has been finally published. On these pages we explore the background to the paper including: the failure of Connexions, loss of direction in state-sponsored youth work and the emergence of government policy. We also examine some of the issues that arose during the drafting of the paper.
contents: introduction · why a green paper for youth? · some hiccups on the way · conclusion · further reading and bibliography · links · how to cite this article
read our summary and review of youth matters, the green paper for youth
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Youth Matters, the English Green Paper for Youth, which was initially expected to be published in November 2004, and was rescheduled for March. This delay caused some concerns within the youth work field and talk of ‘planning blight’ (Young People Now March 23, 2005: 2). The intervention of a general election and consequent changes in ministers further delayed publication. It finally appeared in July 2005. In this piece we examine the background to the Youth Matters, the Green Paper for Youth and some of the tensions and issues that have arisen out of the process of preparing the report.
The decision of the English government to commission a green paper on services for young people and youth grew from a mix of dynamics and was, in part conditioned by the knowledge that the Labour Party would be calling a general election in mid-2005. Here we will examine four key concerns that informed the decision to prepare Youth Matters – the Green Paper for Youth – and the debates among policymakers about what should be included. These concerns were focused around around failures in the Connexions Service; problems around perceived quality in state-sponsored youth services; the development of children’s and youth policy; and a desire to push ahead with the remodelling of public services and workforce reform. We will look at each in turn.
It became abundantly clear to Ministers that the flagship, or at least most prominent, New Labour policy initiative in the youth field – Connexions – was deeply problematic. Although obvious to many commentators at the time of its announcement in 1999 (see the critiques on these pages) flaws in its organization, execution and focus became a political issue. A Green Paper for Youth seemed like a good mechanism for dealing with this.
Some of the flak headed for Connexions was down to a basic political mistake. The original Connexions strategy was bulldozed through and in the process alienated key stakeholders. This would not have mattered if Connexions had strong support from the ‘top’ (like SureStart) but it had few friends among senior ministers and had annoyed some key lobby groups. Perhaps the most significant of these was head teachers. A number had become vocal critics of the new service (as were many parents and young people – despite what Connexions-funded research may have reported). Not unexpectedly, and with some reason, the Secondary Heads Association argued that with additional resources schools could do better both with regard to careers advice and to work with ‘youth at risk’.
Second, there were strong grounds for believing that the quality of general and specialized careers guidance for young people had dropped with the onset of Connexions. A yet as unpublished ‘End-to-End Review’, the outcomes of which ‘will feed into the Youth Green Paper’ (DfES 2004c) concluded that ‘the current arrangements are patchy and not sustainable’ (namss.org.uk 2005). According to a Public Accounts Committee Report (2004), 50 per cent of schools are apparently failing to fulfil their current duties (under the 1997 Education Act) for careers education and guidance.
Third, there was a basic problem with the way in which Connexions was supposedly established as both a universal and a targeted service. As Watts (2001) pointed out some time ago, ‘universality was a second-order consideration’, and this effectively meant that the main strands of careers guidance and youth work (via Transforming Youth Work) were neglected. This conclusion has been supported by research by Hoggarth and Smith (2005) which concluded that Connexions looks more like two services than one, and is not adequately resourced to meet the demands of both universal and targeted youth provision. The Select Committee on Education and Skills (2005) also considered that the current trajectory of Connexions meant that ‘a targeted service for those in most need will always be the priority at the expense of young people in general’ (House of Commons 2005: para 103).
Fourth, there were growing doubts about the claims made for Connexions with regard to its reducing the numbers of young people classified as NEET (not in employment, education and training). Figures published covering the first full two years of the Connexions partnerships showed a reduction of the proportion of young people designated as NEET (from 9 to 7.7 per cent) (Connexions 2005). This was, on the surface, a 14 per cent reduction (that comfortably exceeded the 10 per cent target set for Connexions). However, departmental ministers were reported as coming to believe that it was other policy initiatives such as those within schooling itself that were main contributors to the reduction in youth labelled as NEET (Times Educational Supplement March 4, 2005). The Public Accounts Committee Report (2004) had also drawn attention to the impact of sustained economic growth on such figures. They had commented: ‘The effectiveness of Connexions is difficult to distinguish from changes in employment patterns attributable to economic factors… Connexions cannot be solely responsible for any change’. The National Audit Office (2004: 17) had also judged that it was on the ‘inherent difficulty’ to measure the impact of Connexions in this area. It had, further, drawn attention to the extent to which socio-economic factors outside the control of Connexions and other government institutions make it hard to sustain long-term and continuing reduction in the percentage of NEETs (ibid: 21)
Fifth, the cost of the Service relative to the number of young people targeted (£533 million in 2004/5 – DfES 2004b) and the numbers of people involved in middle management positions were also factors (the service employed some 15,000 people). There was a general concern on the part of Labour Party strategists to make some gestures to cost-cutting/efficiency in the run up to a general election. If we break down the the figures provided by Connexions then the 14 per cent claimed reduction in young people classified as NEET actually translates into 21,500 young people. If we then strip out what was being spent on careers services before Connexions (and make allowance for inflation) the crude cost of achieving this result was £243 million or £11,300 per person – and this assumes that the Service effected the change. If other factors were significant (see above) then the cost per person would rise significantly. In addition, it has been reported that Tony Blair and his chief adviser Andrew Adonis were ‘ruing the fact that £450 million a year was now being spent away from schools and colleges’ (Times Educational Supplement, March 18, 2005). This was a large sum of money – but as the National Audit Office report concluded in 2004 – it wasn’t enough. There was still a significant shortage of personal advisers – and this would need a further £150 million a year.
Sixth, there were questions about the abilities of some front-line personnel. In areas like London, personal advisers appear to have had no other relevant professional qualification, and the hastily put-together training for personal advisers was short-run and contained no supervised and assessed practice element. Significantly, the rush to impose the personal adviser role on careers officers led to a number quitting the new service and many being pushed into more generic roles where their careers expertise was under-utilized. Furthermore, some careers officers did not have the orientation and range of skills that was necessary for the generic personal adviser role.
Finally, the impact of the Connexions strategy on youth work was unpopular in some sectors – especially in the way it had driven moves toward targeting and accreditation – and undermined informal educational character of youth work. The Transforming Youth Work agenda was specifically designed to align state-sponsored youth work with Connexions targets and concerns. While state youth service institutions such as the National Youth Agency, and voluntary organizations dependent on state-sponsorship such as UK Youth may have gone along with this agenda – there was much muttering amongst local groups and projects about the impact on the work – and this did feed through locally to politicians and then nationally. One route was through to the UK Youth Parliament where some members were growing alarmed at the closure of open provision and its replacement by outcome-oriented work (Young People Now November 10, 2004). The Conservative Party picked up on this and came out against a strong emphasis on outcomes. Shadow education secretary Tim Collins, argued that the Government was ‘driving young people away’ from youth provision through its policy focus on learning outcomes (Young People Now, November 3: 4).
State-sponsored youth work loses its way
While the Connexions strategy had a significant impact on the way state-sponsored youth services operated – there was a real sense in which it was pushing at an open door. For some time there was a perception amongst a number of politicians and policymakers that local authority youth services were not clearly focused and often offered poor services. This view was reinforced by the framework for inspection for youth services which constantly set education and recreation against each other. The failure to appreciate that youth work is, historically, a leisure-time activity and that its educational force grows out of its recreational (re-creational) character has contributed to the judging of practice by inappropriate standards. Youth work had significant roots in the Victorian rational recreational movement – and many of its key elements were consciously fashioned within the recreation movement (see, for example, the discussion of the history of group work on these pages). Once the recreational understanding is lost it is easy to see how the work gets misrepresented. For example, the children’s minister, Margaret Hodge was able to use University of London Institute of Education research (due to be published at the same time as the Green Paper for Youth) to attack the work. She explained that ‘just hanging out’ not only does nothing for young people but ‘it can have negative outcomes’ (The Guardian January 20, 2005). Hodge continued, ‘Looked at baldly, this research tells us that these young people would have been better off at home watching telly than spending their time with others in this way.’ [The same research – Leon Feinstein’s analysis of the British Cohort Study (a survey which tracked children born in 1970 until adulthood) can equally be used as to critique New Labour’s schooling strategy. For example, it shows ‘a child’s educational success is more likely to be decided by whether a school provides sport and opportunities for creative reading than class sizes’ (The Guardian December 15, 2004)].
Unfortunately, the loss of an appreciation of youth work as a recreational activity wasn’t the only thing going wrong. Within much state-sponsored youth work there had been a growing shift from voluntary participation to more coercive forms; from association to individualized activity; from education to case management (and not even casework); and from informal to bureaucratic relationships. Significantly, targets surrounding accreditation accelerated the movement away from informal education towards formal education and formation). Much of this movement was in response to changing government agendas and the need to gain money to maintain services. There had been a failure on the part of state-sponsored youth services to communicate the essentials of youth work to policymakers, the general public and themselves. Many voluntary sector youth groups and organizations were also guilty of not attending to basics, but were able to get away it. As they were not dependent on state money, they could carry on much as they had. Others developed, especially in churches. The result was a growing gap between the language, direction and practice of much state-sponsored and voluntary youth work. A number of factors had contributed to this movement. Four stand out.
First, the parallel processes of secularization and professionalization within youth services meant that links have been effectively cut with many of the ideals and practices of the social and religious movements that gave birth to, and remain by far the largest providers of, youth work. Youth service work came to resemble a job rather than a calling.
Second, state-sponsored services failed to respond to the changing experiences of young people and to shifts in society as a whole. In particular, they never really came to terms with extended education, the rise of the home as a centre of entertainment, and declining involvement in community and enthusiast groups.
Third, state-sponsored youth services became cautious, bureaucratized and managerial. This, in turn, further alienated many local voluntary groups. Much of the innovatory work of the 1980s and 1990s was based in the voluntary sector.
Fourth, in order to sustain funding, youth services, national agencies and some voluntary organizations increasingly made a case for their activities around the needs of ‘problematic’ young people. ‘Issue-based’ youth work became more the norm for such services. Their focus was further narrowed by movements in government policy and the use of targeted funding.
As we have seen, even prior to the Transforming Youth Work agenda there had been a move into a more individualized, programmatic and accredited form of working. In many respects much of the work undertaken by state-sponsored youth services is now better described as a conservative version of the north American tradition of youth development rather than youth work. It appears that Ministers and policymakers wanted to consolidate this shift and to bring ‘stragglers’ into line. Again a Green Paper for Youth seemed like a good mechanism (especially given the line already established by Every Child Matters (see below).
The development of children’s and youth policy
A further, key, dimension in the decision to look closely at youth services was the way in which other strands in Labour’s children’s and youth policy developed. Of special note here was the emergence of the children’s trusts as an organizing framework. The turning point in England was the publication of the ‘Green Paper for Children – Every Child Matters in 2003. It, and the papers that followed, identified five outcomes that were seen as ‘key to well-being in childhood and later life’ – being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being. These five concerns have been a significant feature of much of the subsequent policy debate. Another crucial factor has been an obsession with ‘integration’. With the call in Every Child Matters (DfES 2003) for an integrated strategy, integrated processes (including a common assessment framework), and ‘integrated front-line delivery’ in the form of children’s centres, extended schooling, ‘multi-disciplinary teams and lead professionals’ it became obvious that both the remit and organizational shape of both Connexions and the Youth Service did not sit well within the rhetoric. This judgement was reinforced by the publication of the English government’s five year strategy for education which trailed ‘a new, integrated youth offer’ and placed emphasized the role that extended schools would play in developing in the ‘delivery’ of policy objectives in this area (DfES 2004a). In June 2005 policy in this area was further strengthened by the publication of Extended schools: Access to opportunities and services for all. A prospectus (DfES 2005b). It is highly unlikely that the Green Paper for Youth will deviate in any significant way from this path.
The development of children’s trusts and, more recently, ‘the children’s trust approach’ provided Minister’s and policymakers with a way of making sense of services – and it was clear (from this particular – and peculiar – vantage point) that things would have to change.
There has also been a clear thrust in government policy to what has been described as ‘workforce remodelling and ‘modern professionalism’. Indeed, these are seen as being at the heart of New Labour efforts to reform public services (see, for example, Miliband 2003). The basic concern is, on the one hand, to make those working in public services more disposed to the implementation of government policies (rather than what might they might discern as being right for the individual, group and community). On the other hand, there is a desire to contain costs. The result has been an attempt to remove areas of professional discretion (through the implementation of procedures, common assessment frameworks and the like); to shift responsibility for the ‘delivery’ of key elements of education to those less expensive and less skilled practitioners (the use of the word ‘delivery’ here immediately transforms education from a process to a product); and to encourage flexible working patterns.
Margaret Hodge, the children’s minister, was reported as telling civil servants ‘to breakdown the professional silos’ in the area of youth policy (Times Educational Supplement March 11, 2005) and it appears that there is a strong push to reshape the labour force to fit the ‘Children’s Trust approach’.
The publication date of the Green Paper for Youth ran later and later. While this is not unusual in the preparation of papers such as this there were particular tensions and issues surrounding the publication of ‘Things to do, places to go’. Here we want to highlight five.
The structuring of the process
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). This division was significant politically. Work on more general youth provision was seen as sensitive in terms of the upcoming General Election. Key considerations here included the large numbers of voters involved as volunteers in organizations such as the Guides, Scouts and the Churches – and the numbers of children and young people attending such provision. There appears to have been a concern more generally to get the presentation of what was offered to young people ‘right’. However, there also seems to have been a desire on the part of the strategists that the proposals coming from the two DfES working groups should ‘play well’ with the electorate and key lobby groups such as head teachers. Two particular areas were sensitive politically – the state of careers guidance (and the failure of Connexions to provide the appropriate quality and quantity of advice to large numbers of young people in schools and further education colleges); and the need to appear tough around youth who were perceived as acting in anti-social ways in public places.
The separation of the Green Paper working groups gave rise to some issues. One aspect of this was the relative ignorance of the nature and shape of youth work on the part of those working in the Strategy Office. At one level this was to be expected, however the problem was compounded by a lack of ability on the part of the Department for Education and Skills, the National Youth Agency and other key (largely state) stakeholders to enlighten them. In the end some members ended up going back to the Albemarle Report as a starting point.
A further, classic, issue was how to reconcile the views of the different working groups. Here there were shades of an earlier report on youth work – Youth and Community Work in the 70s – where the two different groups involved had very different visions.
Initially it was reported that the timetable for publication of the Green Paper for Youth had slipped as a result of the need to articulate the paper’s proposals with the new 14-18 qualification structure. However, it also became clear that with a growing emphasis on Children’s Trusts and extended schooling the organizational shape of the new services had become a matter for intense lobbying. Perhaps the strongest and most prominent of these were the representatives of the Connexions Service. The basic problem was that its organizational shape and, indeed, its organizational culture (especially the way it rode over the concerns of key stakeholders) did not fit. Anne Weinstock who oversaw the development of Connexions and who is now senior official within the DfES was said to be ‘apoplectic’ at the thought of the break-up of the service (and incidentally a significant part of her empire) (Times Educational Supplement, March 18, 2005: 19). However, the Service had made a significant number of enemies. Not many agencies and practitioners who have to work with Connexions will be shedding tears over its demise.
Once the decision had been made to adopt a ‘Children’s Trust approach’ and to respond to the criticisms made over the quality of careers guidance by schools and colleges, the costs and some of the detail of how Connexions would be dismantled and reformed had to be addressed. This would have taken some time.
There also appear to have been further issues in the compiling of the Green Paper for Youth around whether there was a need for a separate youth service within a Children’s Trust. There was no going back on the naming of the Trusts – and the extent to which ‘youth’ becomes subsumed within a children’s strategy. Furthermore, the scale of the development of both extended schooling and children’s centres was also of some significance (see the discussion of the English Government’s five year strategy elsewhere on these pages). There were comments by Ministers (including Charles Clarke) of the need for youth services to become facilitators of services rather than the providers and a continuing debate, for example, among principal youth officers, of just what role the old youth service could have within the Trusts.
Finally, there appears to have been some questions about how workforce remodelling could be achieved. In particular, there was a strong argument to bring youth work training into the new Sector Skills Council for children’s services and out of the Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council.
Arguments between marketers, accreditors and social capitalists
Unfortunately, debates around the education and welfare system – for all the talk in Every Child Matters (DfES 2003) of wanting children and young people to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being – 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. To this we need to add, especially in the heat of the general election, a concern among politicians to appear to be doing something about what appear to be growing public concerns about the ‘yobbish’ behaviour of some groups of young people. Sadly, when seeking to make sense of this politicians and state policymakers have, on the whole, yet to grasp the fact that while most people want more income and strive for it, ‘as Western societies have got richer, their people have become no happier’ (Layard 2005: 3). Once this is acknowledged then many current policy concerns get turned on their head.
Within some of the teams working on the Green Paper for Youth there were individuals that had begun to recognize the power of the growing critique of economic- rather than happiness-oriented policy by people like Richard Layard and Robert Lane, and groups such as the New Economic Foundation (NEF). To some extent, these people also looked to the arguments put forward by Robert Putnam and others with regard to the need to cultivate social capital if communities are to flourish. Youth work, where it remained committed to notions of association, could make a useful contribution. However, there was a fundamental problem for the current crop of politicians and policymakers who, for all the rhetoric, have presided over a growing centralization of power. Whilst it can be accepted that that the fostering of social capital is of fundamental importance economically and socially, it is also clear that direct intervention by the state around social capital is problematic. As John Field (2003) has said it can only be built by engaging civil society – and helping to create the conditions for associational life. This involves both giving local groups and organizations money with few strings (effectively a return to the old idea of grant aid and a move away from the contract culture) and embracing unpopular notions like subsidiarity. The more government intervenes directly, the less likely it is to foster social capital and civil society (see Edwards 2004, 2005).
The proposals of the social capitalists were questioned by those who in the Green Paper for Youth working groups who wanted a stronger role for the market and for profit-driven organizations in provision for young people. There have been a very strong elements both within New Labour and the Conservative Party who have argued for (and largely gained) what is, effectively, a commodification of education and a growing corporatization (see globalization and education). Such marketization and commodification has led to a significant privatization of education in a number of countries including the UK. Schooling, higher education and training have been seen as lucrative markets to be in (see Giroux 2000; Moboit 2000).
Into this mix also came those who saw the way forward as placing a strong emphasis upon youth work as a form of extended schooling, or more accurately as an expression of an extended curriculum (rather than an extra-curricular activity – see informal education in schools and colleges). Based on a set of fundamental misunderstandings (e.g. equating education with curriculum, well-being with certification, and recreation and fun with a lack of learning) this ideology has come to dominate policy with regard to state-sponsored youth work in recent years (most notably through Transforming Youth Work). However, this agenda appears to have met some significant questioning by those wanting to advance the case for a concern with social capital, and for those looking for more market-driven ‘solutions’. Indeed, it was those in the latter camp (already armed with the slogan ‘things to do, places to go’) that had a powerful argument within a new Labour framework against the seemingly relentless push to accreditation – young people had enough of that at school.
The problem of the voluntary sector
Since its inception youth work has overwhelmingly been undertaken by volunteers and workers in local groups. These groups, in turn, are part of national and international movements. Scouting and guiding provide a very visible and constant example of this. In addition, in recent years, within many local churches there had been a deepening and accelerating interest in work with young people. By 1998, the English Church Attendance Survey found that some 21 per cent of churches had a full-time salaried youth worker. This figure may have included some curates who had youth work as their prime responsibility – but it is nonetheless very significant. It suggests that at that time there were about 7,900 full-time youth workers in English churches – and that this comfortably exceeded the number of full-time workers employed by local authorities (3190). The Church had become the largest employer of youth workers in the country.
The problem for the Strategists was that the vast bulk of youth work provision remained in the hands of voluntary organizations and volunteers who were happy to go their own way, and over whom they had few means of leverage. These organizations and groups were not dependent on state money to any significant degree. Furthermore, they had their own agendas and identities and would resist attempts to bring them in line with the new Labour agenda. The lack of attention to spiritual development within the Transforming Youth Work agenda and the emphasis on economism and materialism hardly endeared the government to large swathes of this voluntary sector. How they were to be brought into line in order to meet the proposed ‘youth offer’ (see below) was, and remained, a puzzle to them. It was a puzzle that was inevitably brought back to ‘buying them’ in some way – perhaps around the use of a ‘youth card’ (see below).
The problem of specialism
As we have already seen there has been a call by the Minister responsible, ‘to break down professional silos’ and a concern to bring in more generic and, presumably, malleable workers. However, there remained a strong case for independent specialism and expertise that needed answering. It is in the area of careers advice and guidance that this case has been most strongly made. The concern within Connexions to create generic personal advisers meant that the expertise of many careers officers was either sidelined or lost (with a significant number leaving the service). In addition, 67 per cent of careers education and guidance programmes in schools are reported as being led by a teacher without a specialist training in the area (Morris 2004). The ‘End to End’ Review of careers education and guidance has similarly highlighted the need for informed and sound advice and guidance and current deficiencies with respect to this. OECD (2004) research highlighted the need for a specialist services with respect to careers guidance systems. 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.]
The working group on guidance had to consider whether they should recommend the adoption of a version of the ‘standalone’, specialist, model pioneered by Careers Wales and Careers Scotland. Both have achieved a significant measure of success (see Watts 2005a; Moulson and Prail 2004).
A similar case could be made for the need for specialist informal educators such as youth workers – but does not appear to have been articulated so strongly.
Many of these tensions and disagreements have been reproduced in Youth Matters. As can be seen from our review of Youth Matters much of the Green Paper for Youth is shot through with a profound misunderstanding of the nature of youth work; a problem that has also been reflected in recent Ofsted inspections and ministerial pronouncements. In particular, there has been a failure to appreciate youth work as a leisure-time activity – and the nature of informal education and learning in such settings. There also remain fundamental issues around careers advice and guidance.
In our analysis we highlight five major areas of critique. Youth Matters:
views young people seen as victims, yobs and consumers – not citizens; and fails more broadly to properly engage with social capital and civic society. The civil liberties of the young are threatened – particularly through the introduction of the youth opportunity card.
promotes an over-focus on the school.
- heralds an extended regime of charging.
- furthers the tyranny of joined-up thinking.
- proposes problematic organizational arrangements.
Sadly, if we had to predict what the issues would be with the Green Paper when it was first announced the list would have been similar.
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How to cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2005) ‘Background to the Green Paper for Youth 2005’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education, https://infed.org/mobi/youth-matters-background-to-the-green-paper-on-services-for-youth/. First published; March 20, 2005
© Mark K. Smith 2005
Last Updated on June 20, 2019 by infed.org