The purpose and content of the youth service

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This Report of the Youth Advisory Council appointed by the Minister of Education in 1943 (and published in 1945), provides a classic statement of youth work as non-vocational group work.

contents: preface · foreword · chapter 1: background · chapter 2: purpose · chapter 3: content

The first report of the Youth Advisory Council, published in 1943, examined the nature and shape of the Youth Service after the war. This report is, as the foreword states, more theoretical and speculative. Often overlooked, it is a classic statement of a key strand of ‘modern’ youth work and is particularly interesting to read in the light of the Albemarle Report. Here we just want to highlight five features:

First, the Report has a clear focus on youth work as group work and of the significance of the group in terms of individual development. ‘The collective discipline of the whole group’, the writers comment, ‘grows from the individual self-discipline of each member. And each member in seeking the good of the group will find gain as an individual.’

Second, there is strong emphasis on voluntary involvement and participation – and the distinctive possibilities that this affords.

Third, the Report argued that the purpose of activities undertaken within the Youth Service should be recreation and enjoyment. Great store was set on the ‘spirit or the company in which… activity is pursued’.

Fourth, the Council was very concerned about the extent to which the notion of leadership is an unhelpful one in the context of youth work. They were worried about the way in which notions of leadership can quickly place young people in the role of followers. Members also rejected ‘any theory of leadership which pre-supposes that any leader is omnipotent and irremovable’.

Last, there was an emphasis on conversation and informality; and a concern for education in so far as it is non-vocational. The writers comment:

Informal education of this kind is probably more, not less, difficult than formal class-teaching or “instruction by discourse”, and its technique needs to be deliberately learnt. It needs to be said also that these discussions must be honest and fearless. The argument must be followed whithersoever it may lead, for the developing mind must not be arbitrarily stopped short by any prejudice or preconception on the part of the leader. His function is to encourage the development of a questioning and questing attitude to life rather than a receptive and submissive one. At the same time he must remember that he is dealing with minds which are immature and often unformed and one of his most constant duties must be to give them the respect and protection which are their due. Inside this framework there is very little which can or should be excluded, from social security or sex to town-planning or religion. The responsibility of the leader is an obvious and heavy one.

Such a concern with facilitation was later picked up by L. J. Barnes in his report – The Outlook for Youth.


[page 4]This second Report of the Youth Advisory Council is of a different kind from the Council’s first Report published in 1943. The earlier Report was to a large extent factual and descriptive. The present one is more theoretical and speculative. It therefore assumes in the reader some first-hand experience of the problems it discusses. It is published now in the hope that it may be of some interest and some help to those who are themselves working in this field.

It is impossible for us to give any complete list of acknowledgments. We have been greatly helped by the evidence, either in the form of memoranda or in conversation, which we have received from a great variety of associations, societies and individuals representing every type of organisation concerned with youth; many will recognise their own contributions, none are to be burdened with any responsibility for the views which we ourselves express. Most of all we are indebted to those young people from all parts of the country with whom we spent a most profitable day.

We wish to pay tribute to the unfailing help we have received from all our assessors, and especially to Mr. H. E. Melvin and Mrs. H. J. Harry pf the Ministry of Education, whose expert knowledge, secretarial skill and practical efficiency have made our meetings enjoyable to ourselves and, we hope, profitable to others.

Chapter 1: Background

[page 5] 

  1. We are writing in the sixth year of war, a fact which has a considerable bearing on our enquiry. For while we are charged to report on the content and purpose of the Youth Service in the future a large part of our evidence is inevitably based on the structure of the Youth Service as it has grown and developed in the immediate past. We are well aware of the long and distinguished history of those organisations which have been active over a considerable number of years, and we have been careful to remember, side by side with more recent provision in the same field, the abiding contribution which they have made and are making. The fact remains that the greater interest shewn by statutory authority, both central and local, since the beginning of the war, resulting in that partnership between these authorities and voluntary agencies of all kinds which is now well known as the Youth Service, has made a great difference, while the expansion of the pre-Service Cadet Corps in the early war years has brought into prominence another factor in the situation. The picture has therefore changed a good deal since pre-war days, complicated by the diversity of the agencies, each with its own individual purpose and content, which now operate in this field.
  2. Secondly, we must have constantly in mind the background of instability, social and economic, and of changing moral standards, against which the present generation has grown up. The years between this war and the last were a time of general unsettlement, in standards, values and conduct; there  was general insecurity and in many parts of the country unemployment. The  effect of those years is very much to be seen in those who are growing up to-day. The impact of war has accentuated changes which were already taking place and has produced for many an acute and far-reaching dislocation of normal life. To thousands of young people their father is a stranger, their mother is somebody whom war work has taken away from home for the whole of a long working day, and their school is a weakened influence only. Nor can we expect that the end of fighting in Europe or Asia will end, or reverse, these changes. For many years to come we must expect unsettlement, both in the mind and in material circumstances, and this must bear especially hardly on those who are in any case growing through those years which are perhaps the most unstable in the life of any individual, the years of adolescence. On the other hand, these circumstances of their upbringing have also given members of this particular generation an unusual opportunity, to which the majority have made a splendid response. The stimulus of abnormal difficulties has brought out in them qualities which in more uneventful times might never have been revealed but which nevertheless are typical of the response of adolescents to the challenge of life. The disturbed times which we must expect after the war will open to them an even greater opportunity, if they bring to the problems of reconstruction the same spirit which they have shown in meeting the demands of war. This will largely depend on their finding an objective which, though it can hardly be as clear and definite as, for instance, that which the pre-Service Corps have put before their members during the war is no less important, and will [page 6] only have validity for the young if it has validity for their elders. If this condition can be met, there is no reason to doubt the ability of our young men and women to answer the challenge of peace, or to carry on in their own time and manner the long-standing tradition of voluntary public service which this country rightly values so highly.
  3. Our third difficulty is that from the nature of the problem many elements of the future for which we are to plan are at present unpredictable. That is not mere platitude. In our particular field two major factors are unknown. One is the whole question whether or not there will in peace-time be some period of compulsory National Service, whether or not it will be universally required, whether or not it will be required of girls as well as boys, at what age it will be required, and what forms it will take. If on other grounds it is decided that this service should be required it can, wisely directed, provide opportunities for young people to live together in purposeful communities. Certainly any plans of this kind would have a very considerable effect on the Youth Service, not only in their immediate repercussions on the pre-Service organisations but in the wider field as well, for they would presumably cover part of the age-range with which the Youth Service is concerned. The other unknown factor is the effect on young people of the educational legislation contained in the Butler Act. Its probable effect is two-fold. We must expect that as the County Colleges develop they will become centres for leisure time activities for those districts in which they are situated. But we do not believe that this provision should attempt to cover the whole field of leisure time youth activity. We see the County Colleges as providing such physical facilities as accommodation, swimming baths, concert halls and playing fields which they will make available to all voluntary organisations in their neighbourhood as well as to any clubs and societies of their own. There will also be the effects of a longer, more varied and more individually appropriate school life. It is difficult to estimate the consequences of this but we expect two major results. We expect a more varied demand for leisure provision, as a result of the wider interests of those who have had a longer formal education. And it has to be remembered that the demand, besides being greater in extent, will also be for provision of a higher and higher quality. We expect too that as the school leaving age is raised there may well come change in the age range with which the Youth Service is concerned and some change in the centre of gravity of the Youth Service itself. These consequences of the Act will call for new and experimental thinking as they become more clear.
  4. With these and other uncertainties before us we propose to state, positively, concretely and perhaps dogmatically, what we believe to be the specific contributions which the Youth Service can and ought to make. Where so much is uncertain, and where so many frontiers still remain to be drawn, it will perhaps be a help if one field at least can be fairly clearly defined.

Chapter 2: Purpose

  1. The first and obvious question about the Youth Service, as about anything else, is “What is it for?” It is to this question that the ensuing paragraphs endeavour to give an answer. There was no doubt a stage when the main emphasis was preventative and palliative. Some of the voluntary associations necessarily and rightly had to concern themselves first with providing for their members the opportunities to learn the elements of community living. [page 7] Even in 1939 one of the objects of the Government’s Service of Youth campaign was frankly and openly a “first-aid” policy, with the aim of keeping young people off the streets and out of trouble. This was an early stage, both chronologically and theoretically. But it was a very necessary one. The degree to which it has been possible to advance beyond this objective to a fuller and more positive conception of the Youth Service is a measure of the success of the pioneers in laying firm the foundations.
  2. The associations and societies which make up the Youth Service fall into two main groups. First there are those which make a particular appeal, and attract members who wish to undertake certain fairly specific activities. Each of these organisations has its own distinguishing motif, its own particular standpoint and approach. This motif need not (indeed, should not) be incapable of variation; it will develop to meet the changing and developing needs which boys and girls must feel as their personalities develop and change. But a boy who joins one of these organisations is a boy who already knows, within fairly clear limits, what he wants, and joins this particular organisation in order to get it. The second main group consists of those clubs and other institutions which have not the specific or dominating motif possessed by, for instance, the Boy Scouts’ Association or a Church Youth Fellowship. These cater for two main classes of boys and girls, first, those who know what they want and know that it is not provided by any of these more “specific” organisations, second those many boys and girls who do not yet know what it is that they do want from the Youth Service, and who must proceed by trial and error in discovering what particular interest they will wish to pursue. It is important that these two main groups of providers in the Youth Service field should not be confused with each other, for their purposes are, within the general ambit of the Youth Service field, different. It is important also that within the first group there should be a proper division of function; there is a temptation for any vigorous organisation to try to provide everything, but there is a loss of incisiveness if the particular purpose of the more ”specific” organisation is watered down by the addition of “unspecific” activities. This is not to rule out the extension of the activities of a specific “organisation in accordance with its own motif to meet the developing needs which we have mentioned above.
  3. While we recognise, and indeed assert, that the Youth Service is a part of the education service of the country, we cannot help feeling that it has been and still is pre-occupied with filling the gaps left by an inadequate national system of full-time education. Inevitably this has tended to introduce a therapeutic element into the content and the techniques of the Youth Service. We hope that a longer period of full-time education, together with the institution of a national system of part-time education as promised by the Butler Act, will remove this element. But even though it may in part disappear when the statutory provisions in the Butler Act are implemented, the Youth Service should continue to provide opportunities for further education of a non-vocational kind; so long as there is a demand, it must be met. One thing must be remembered, that for the present and indeed for some time to come every possible channel through which education (in its widest sense) can flow must be kept clear.
  4. What is there we can say about the specific contribution which the Youth Service can make within this framework? We believe that there are four characteristics of the Youth Service which distinguish its contribution from the contributions of the other agencies which are at work in the lives of young people. The purpose of the Youth Service is to promote and provide the opportunity for participating in activities [page 8]

(i) which are carried on in a community different in its nature from school or work;

(ii) which are voluntarily undertaken;

(iii) which are complementary to other activities;

(iv) to which the approach is from the standpoint of recreation.

  1. At school or at work a young man or woman is inside a relationship which is based on authority. It may be—it often is—the case that that authority is very much in the background, and that neither the teacher nor the foreman has to wield a big stick, either literally or metaphorically. But the fact remains that in the last resort the relationship between teacher and pupil or between manager and employee is one which is based on an authoritarian sanction. In a club or a voluntary society the relationship is based on consent, and the relationship between leader and member is therefore different in kind from that between teacher and pupil. It is not a question of friendliness or affection; there may be more of that between a good schoolmaster and his pupils than there is between a club leader and his members. The point is that the club member can legitimately terminate the relationship simply by walking out. This difference of relationship is fundamental to the whole nature of a voluntary society.
  2. We are agreed, secondly, that these activities must be voluntarily undertaken. It is clear that any organisation must require from those who share in its amenities the acceptance of a code of rules and a standard of behaviour. This is an obvious consequence of joining. The point is that they should be under no compulsion to join but should enjoy full freedom to join or not and having joined to leave. Further, it follows that the activities of any group should as far as possible grow out of the needs and demands of its members and should not be imposed on it by the well-intentioned authority of the leader. In the pre-Service Corps this may not be entirely possible, for here there is a syllabus of specific training laid down by the Service Department concerned; but even here there are ways of adapting the prescribed schedule to the individual enthusiasms of the cadets. It is the difficult function of the organiser or leader to stimulate an interest which requires the formation of a particular group for a particular purpose, by bringing within range of the imagination of the members the opportunities available. No doubt the particular group may in time disintegrate as the particular enthusiasm spends itself. But it is part of the leader’s job to be always starting afresh, undeterred by the transience of adolescent enthusiasms; for such short-lived eagerness is of the very nature of the adolescent.
  3. There are two senses in which the Youth Service should play a complementary part in the lives of young men and women: We believe that even a life which is happy and successful in home, school or work is still further enriched by participation in Youth Service activities which can nourish sides of the personality left untouched by other influences. In addition to the influences of home, religion, school and work there is the influence, which may be good or bad, of the way in which young people spend their leisure time. This influence, if the leisure is wisely used, will be complementary to the other influences and just as important as they are in moulding the character. We believe also that the particular form or forms of Youth Service activity which any young man or woman undertakes should be that which he or she individually needs for growth into a rounded and balanced personality. The principal need of one may be for opportunities for physical exercise, of another for the development of self-confidence, another for quiet reading, another for the making of friends. The Youth Service should enable each boy and girl [page 9] to get what he or she individually needs for the fulfilment of personality. The important thing is to meet, in a particular and individual way and as they arise, the adolescent’s particular interests and needs; these will change and develop and the provision made must keep pace with them. For each boy and girl there should be available at each stage of development something which is not a mere “ready-made” but made to the measure of their interests and needs.
  4. Fourthly, the purpose of activities undertaken within the Youth Service should be recreation and enjoyment. It is a mistake to try to find a list of particular activities which can be classed as “Youth Service “activities or subjects. The important point is not the particular activity itself but the motive from which it is undertaken. Keeping rabbits, regarded simply as an activity, may be either a voluntary and enjoyable leisure time activity or a commercially profitable business enterprise; mathematics may be a school subject or may, thinly disguised, be a regular activity of an Air Training Corps squadron; sailing boats can be an exciting pastime, or a hazardous occupation; building a hut may be “all in a day’s work” or, for a group of scouts, the enjoyable labour of providing their own headquarters. The difference lies in the spirit or the company in which the activity is pursued. There are, of course, a great many subjects or activities which on the surface appear to be obviously Youth Service activities—for example youth hostelling, darts, play-reading—and others which on the surface appear to belong to school, work, the family—for example, mental arithmetic, answering the telephone, or minding the baby. But these surface appearances may be misleading; in any case they do not give us a genuine criterion for deciding what is or what is not an appropriate enterprise for the Youth Service. The particular activity is no test; the only safe principle is the motive which inspires it. We do not wish to suggest that the man who breeds rabbits for profit or lays bricks for a living cannot enjoy these activities; he can and often does. But he is doing them for a living and his primary motive is therefore different from that of those who do them for recreation.
  5. We must be careful not to exaggerate. We must not make the mistake of supposing that the Youth Service all by itself can cover the whole life and development of any boy or girl. And we must never forget that besides the Youth Service there are all kinds of other influences in the life of a boy or girl. Family, school, work, church, friends, all have their influences, profound and often conflicting, on the growing personality; and we shall be misled if we neglect or underestimate any of them. But we believe that such activities as we have suggested, undertaken from such motives and in such voluntary communities, will help to produce happier and more balanced adults, with fuller personalities and a wider range of social and recreational interests. We are emphatically not concerned to produce a set type; rather we wish to see each boy and girl given the fullest opportunities for self-development within an ordered community. One result will be a deeper recognition of the responsibilities which each individual has as a citizen, as a matter of duty towards the community and towards each of the other members of it. Tastes and interests born and nourished in a youth organisation will find their adult expression in a wider context, in local voluntary societies or in the life of a community centre. Always, we hope, there will be coming from the Youth Service new and lively recruits to the company of adult citizens; and we also hope that that company will be increasingly glad to welcome them. [page 10]

Chapter 3: Content

  1. Purpose and content are joined to each other as closely as the two sides of a penny. They are inseparable and the one cannot exist without the other. But though they are inseparable they can be separately examined, and having discussed the purpose we must now turn the penny over and consider the content of the Youth Service. It would be comparatively easy to set out a catalogue of activities which are or should be included in the Youth Service. But in our view that would not be a particularly valuable or illuminating thing to do. Rather we believe our business to be to follow through the practical implications of the four distinguishing characteristics we have enunciated.
  2. Stated as briefly as possible we believe the logical sequence to be as follows. There must be provision, within the principles we have outlined, of the means to ensure all those advantages and benefits which flow from group living. First come facilities for their realisation and development, and those facilities include both persons and physical material. Second must be introduced an inspiration and incentive which will kindle the enthusiasm of young people so that they take advantage of these varied facilities which are offered for their use. And finally, that they may use them with intelligence and a sound judgment, there will be need for such knowledge as will enable them to manage their own group life with success and, more important still, will show them the essential continuity of their own youth organisations with the wider community, national and international, of which they themselves and their organisations are a part.
  3. If group living is to have any real significance it must mean sharing in common enterprises; and there will be all kinds of activity springing from the interests of the group. Those whose chief interests lie in adventure in the open air may well find their congenial activities in Scout troops and Guide companies; those who enjoy particular forms of social recreation will find their place in clubs of one kind or another; those whose taste is for a specialist activity may well find it in a Young Farmers’ Club or the Sea Cadet Corps. Whatever the activity, and whatever the precise motif the lessons to be learnt are the same, co-operation, tolerance, free decision and joint responsibility. Individuals find their proper places, some as leaders of opinion, some as practical administrators, some as ordinary citizens. The point is that the activity of the group must be so designed as to enable each member to make his or her own particular contribution to the life of the group. Unsuspected abilities are discovered, in the hitherto unrecognised pianist, navigator, stage-carpenter, or dress designer. In a way which is not always possible in family, school or workshop, the ideal can be exemplified that the particular contribution of each member is essential to the healthy functioning of the group as a whole, that every single person counts, and that there is a social significance in what each member of the society does and is. It may well be that this is an ideal, and one which can seldom be reached; but the more clearly young people can come to understand that no human society can prosper without the active participation of each of its members the nearer we shall be to a healthy political life in the future.
  4. Viewed from another angle, this is to say that the Youth Service should provide opportunities for learning lessons of self-discipline. The discipline of the home, school or factory must often be a discipline imposed from outside or from above. In a voluntary youth organisation the individual member comes to recognise that his own selfishness in the use of a billiard-table or his own carelessness in map reading or his own slackness in not attending a rehearsal [page 11] spoils the pleasure of his contemporaries and may well wreck the corporate activity on which the group is engaged. The collective discipline of the whole group grows from the individual self-discipline of each member. And each member in seeking the good of the group will find gain as an individual.
  5. One particular form which this collective self-discipline can usefully take is the undertaking and carrying through to the end of one particular combined job. This will not be easy, for perseverance is not a typical virtue of the adolescent, but it is a collective lesson of high value. The particular job may be the production of a play, with the opportunities which that offers for many different talents. It may be a camp or a cycling-tour. It may be the building of a hut or the raising of a crop of potatoes. The important thing is not so much the planning or indeed the result. The really important thing is the seeing the job through, overcoming the difficulties, adapting the original scheme to changing conditions, above all, learning to work with each other right through to the end until the play is performed, the hut completed, or the potatoes safely lifted.
  6. Moreover such activities as we have mentioned bring life more abundantly to the individual who takes part in them. Not only will he have the opportunity of making friends who share with him common interests and a common enthusiasm—and friendships which develop from interests shared are among the chief graces of life and are especially valuable to the individualistic boy or girl who finds it difficult to make friends—but also, and this is even more important, he will have the benefit which comes to the individual who is living and acting in harmony with a community of his contemporaries. We do not think that there is any conflict between the welfare of such a group and the individual welfare of the members of it; rather we affirm that the welfare of the group enhances that of the individual. The obvious example is a successful camp, where the happiness of any one member depends on the happiness of the camp, as the happiness of the camp depends on the individual happiness of those who compose it. Further, the groups themselves must come to learn, in their relationships with one another, precisely the same lessons which their own individual members learn from personal relationships inside each group.
  7. These experiences, to be possible at all, demand facilities, and we regard the provision of facilities as one of the most important duties the Youth Service has to carry out. For all-the-year-round use there are still not nearly enough suitable buildings for the accommodation of youth activities, and we assert it as an urgent duty of the appropriate authorities to make available the buildings and equipment which are needed not only by established organisations but also by comparatively unorganised groups of young people who have a genuine need. We do not mean that we want the authorities concerned to provide all these amenities free of charge, for we believe very strongly that young people, like their elders, value more something which demands of them some return. Above all, we believe that when young people have a hand themselves in building or making habitable the place in which they meet they have a devotion to it, and what goes on in ft, which can come in no other way. But when all this is said, there remains much that various statutory authorities ought to do in making it possible for young people to help themselves in this way, and we urge these authorities to act. In particular they should see to it that on housing estates, both temporary and permanent, sites needed for the work of the Youth Service are safeguarded. Beyond this there are many obvious deficiencies of municipal provision for both young people and their elders. For instance, many towns and country districts too are deficient in adequate modern swimming baths, playgrounds, gymnasia and public open spaces; and some have [page 12] none at all. The public library service could do more, both by ensuring that the public libraries are open at the times when young people can use them, by providing clubs and youth organisations generally with boxes of books, selected in consultation between the librarian and the youth leader, and changed at frequent intervals, and by encouraging librarians to develop and make known to young people the facilities they have to offer. For individual boys and girls of a studious turn of mind there is a real need for quiet rooms, either in club buildings or in community centres or in the public libraries (if these are near enough to where the boys and girls live) where they may do their homework or read on their own. We heartily endorse the call for some sort of non-commercial provision of cafes or something like the American “drug stores “, where young people can meet their friends, talk, dance, get food and soft drinks, in surroundings bright, cheerful and friendly.
  8. Again, there is not yet anything like enough provision for music, drama and the arts generally. There must be the physical buildings in which young people can hear music and see plays, films and pictures. Both the buildings and the performances given in them must be of the highest possible quality, so that education in taste is continuously, if unconsciously, going on. C.E.M.A. has taken to the people concerts and exhibitions of a high standard, and in this field, as elsewhere, nothing but the best is good enough. As well as the opportunity for watching and listening, there must be facilities for young people to act plays, make music, paint pictures, take photographs and shoot films. Especially we would urge that the cinema should be recognised for what it is, the most important single influence on the minds of millions of young people, more powerful than books, sermons and radio. The standards of conduct, taste and speech set by the commercial cinema influence and colour the lives of a vast proportion of young men and women. We believe these standards can best be raised not by condemnation of the cinema but by frank and explicit discussion of the technique, taste and truth of what they see at their local cinema every week. We suggest that more leaders should deliberately set out to make themselves familiar with the relevant standards and with the art of informal discussion after a visit to the cinema, so that these discussions may be neither solemn, priggish nor superior. If it is accepted that the young, as well as their elders, are tempted to accept their amusements ready made, the antidote is threefold, to develop in them a critical attitude towards commercial amusements, to encourage them to make their own interests and amusements for themselves, and to ensure that in this context as in others what is provided for them is of the highest standard obtainable.
  9. It is important also that the town-dweller should have opportunities for getting to know the countryside. Too many people spend too much time indoors, and youth organisations might with advantage remember besides their job of “getting them in to the club,” the complementary job of “getting them out to the country.” There has been in recent years a striking and encouraging growth in the use of youth hostels and short week-end tours, on bicycles or on foot, are a regular feature of many organisations. As they grow in popularity there will be a corresponding need for accommodation, in hostels or camp-sites. Equally urgent is the demand for more places in which the urban boy and girl can enjoy a healthy holiday away from the surroundings of work. This will mean holiday camps, either for young people alone or, on the American and Canadian models, for whole families together. Some young people prefer to go off alone, in twos or threes, or in small companies. Others prefer bigger crowds and “more going on.” For those who are just beginning to appreciate holidays away from the towns there is probably need for more organised entertainment than for those who have had more experience; and while we recognise the greater value (for those who can enjoy them) of small camps; cycling tours and [page 13] walking expeditions, we should be sorry if a kind of holiday snobbery deprived the town dweller of the friendly, bigger and perhaps rather noisier holiday camp which he enjoys, The limit to the size and nature of such camps must be that they must not destroy, either for those who use them or for other holiday-makers, the amenities of the piece of country in which they are. We would add that in the framing of policy on National Parks we hope that the fullest attention will be paid to the claims of young people.
  10. There is, too, a need for better and increased facilities for travel in foreign countries and throughout the Empire. Holidays in strange lands and amongst other peoples, expeditions and adventures by land, sea and air, far from the familiar roads of home, quicken the imagination unforgettably in youth and leave impressions of lasting value. We believe that travelling abroad helps to foster better understanding between peoples who live and think differently, and particularly would promote in our young men and women a desire to welcome to this country their contemporaries from other parts of the world. This travel might well take either of two forms, each of which has its special values. Young people may go off alone or with one or two companions, or organisations which have an international membership may facilitate exchange visits in camps or by other means between their members of different nationalities. We urge that every encouragement should be given to the organisation of international youth camps and rallies.
  11. We venture to include under the heading of facilities the human persons who give their help to young people in various ways. The day-to-day job of running a club or youth centre makes many demands on those who undertake it. These are the people who are now generally known as youth leaders. This is not a title we like, but it is by now firmly established, and we cannot agree on a better one. What we do wholly reject is any theory of leadership which pre-supposes that any leader is omnipotent and irremovable. A further objection to the use of the word “leader” is that it may tend to create and perpetuate a situation in which one half of the youth relationship is regarded as permanently “the leader,” while the other half is regarded as permanently “the led”; and this is alien to our conception of the relationship. The responsibilities of the leader’s position are very heavy, and we are convinced that the Youth Service can be satisfied with nothing but the best. It is not within the terms of our reference to discuss the recruitment or training of youth leaders, and the McNair Committee has recently reported on this whole question. Nor would we presume to set out any recipe for the production of a youth leader —there must be a blend of idealism with realism and of experiment with stability; above all, there must be enthusiasm and patience with a devoted and wholehearted belief in the importance of the job. But among the qualities we should hope to see a youth leader, in our understanding of the term, possess are:—

(i) a balanced personality;

(ii) personal interests outside the “ Youth” world;

(iii) an appreciation of the true nature of the relationship between himself and his group;

(iv) the tact to encourage his followers to grow out of his own leadership;

(v) the willingness and ability to take his proper part in the life of the adult community outside his own and all other youth organisations;

(vi) a willingness to acknowledge that a certain technique may become outworn and the courage to discard it when it is.

We are further agreed that the success and efficiency of a person who possesses these qualities would be enhanced by appropriate training, both particular and general. Training courses of themselves will not create leaders, for the essential thing is the personality of the individual; but training will always improve the quality and effectiveness of even the most naturally gifted person. We believe, in spite of exceptions which might seem to indicate the opposite, that it is usually desirable [page 14] to have an adult in the background of any youth group, if only to act as an impartial referee or as a personal guarantee of some continuity. But his success will be judged the greater the less he is required to intervene—and this is the crux of our objection to the word “leader.”

  1. Besides these day-to-day permanent officers there are three other kinds of adults who have a great contribution to make. The first is the voluntary worker, often not an expert, who puts in unspectacular and often thankless work of the greatest value. We hope that these voluntary helpers will never disappear from a field in which they have done and are doing such valiant work. The second is the specialist helper who comes in to a youth group to put his specialist knowledge, in physical training or music or whatever it may be, at the disposal of the members. The third is a kind of person who has not yet been sufficiently used, the man or woman of outstanding personal gifts, whether from our own country, from the Empire or from a foreign country. They may visit a group only once, but their impact, being the impact of greatness, will have an abiding influence. Not enough has been done in the past to use these sources of inspiration and enthusiasm.
  2. One particular problem which faces both the leader and his group is their attitude towards religion. This is, naturally, less of a problem in those organisations which are attached to one of the Churches or in those voluntary organisations which have a religious foundation. But in those groups which have no avowed religious purpose the question inevitably arises: What opportunities do they provide for the development of a religious attitude in their members? To one of these opportunities we have already referred in what we have said about group living. “The New Testament knows nothing of a solitary Christian”; and the boy or girl who has learnt the rudiments of life in a community has been prepared to receive the central message of Christianity. He is also in a position to realise the supra-national community of the Church. The leader can show how the decision of questions which arise in a club committee may often depend upon the fundamental view of man from which they are approached. His personal influence may help to create or develop religious faith in the members. Should he not himself be a man of religious faith we hope that he will show respect for the faith of others, and allow opportunities to the members to accept or reject, on the basis of knowledge, the Christian—or, it may be, the Jewish—religion. In programme planning it will be natural to make room for those occasions of religious inspiration which enrich experience and enlarge the vision of what life was meant to be. Worship may become a new reality in the club when the members take a share in planning and leading it. The intimate personal contacts of camp, and the evening worship, may provide a lasting inspiration and prove to be a turning-point in a young person’s life. The Youth Service has itself created opportunities for worship in large gatherings, which has given to many young people a new vision of the world-wide Church. The Christian Year provides a setting in which, through music and drama, young people can grasp the essentials of the Christian message. Discussion groups, to which we refer elsewhere, provide opportunities—the more informal the better—for facing the fundamental questions of life, and the intimate problems of daily living. Here the best adult helper is not necessarily the great speaker, but the patient listener, who has knowledge and experience with which to answer questions and suggest new lines of enquiry. The young people in our clubs and organisations are not looking for conventional religion. They will respond to sincerity wherever they meet it.
  3. The point of all our suggestions is that young people may have in the narrower context of their own organisations experience which is in miniature [page 15] that of the wider community in which they will in a fuller measure soon participate. It cannot be emphasised too often that youth organisations are organic parts of the whole pattern of society, a pattern which includes all ages and which will not permit any part to be isolated from the whole. No youth organisation must become an end in itself. It must always lead on to the wider adult life of the whole community. It ought to be the case that members of a youth organisation, when they reach the age-limit for it, naturally move on to adult societies and clubs of various kinds, whether independent organisations or groups, social, recreational or educational, which have their focus in a community centre. There is a manifest gain in those organisations which provide for a steady and organic flow from juvenile to adult membership. But we do not want to see the influence of membership of a youth organisation confined only to this one adult channel. Rather we hope that ex-members of youth organisations will be constantly moving into adult societies as a new and enriching element. This does not at all mean that young people and adults will carry on all their activities together. We believe that there is much to be said for having different parts of the same building, whether club, community centre or county college, available for young people and adults at the same time; but they would naturally have different interests and wish to avoid interruption or interference from each other. The principle should be insulation within the same whole rather than any isolation or segregation from the whole.
  4. If young people are going to learn to take their places in the wider community they must have some knowledge of a kind which they are themselves demanding and which will also initiate them into the social and political systems of their adult life, municipal, national and international. We would therefore recommend, especially among the older members of the age-group with which we are concerned, wide and free discussion of the social, religious, political and economic questions which already interest them and will one day soon affect them in a very direct way as voters, rate-payers and tax-payers. Such discussions must, from the nature of the case, be as informal as possible. That does not mean that they need be inconclusive, aimless or uninformed, There is a real need that leaders should set themselves to learn the difficult art of conducting informal discussions; there is by now available a considerable body of experience and technique, all of which goes to show that enthusiasm and an amiable interest are by themselves insufficient. Informal education of this kind is probably more, not less, difficult than formal class-teaching or “instruction by discourse”, and its technique needs to be deliberately learnt. It needs to be said also that these discussions must be honest and fearless. The argument must be followed whithersoever it may lead, for the developing mind must not be arbitrarily stopped short by any prejudice or preconception on the part of the leader. His function is to encourage the development of a questioning and questing attitude to life rather than a receptive and submissive one. At the same time he must remember that he is dealing with minds which are immature and often unformed and one of his most constant duties must be to give them the respect and protection which are their due. Inside this framework there is very little which can or should be excluded, from social security or sex to town-planning or religion. The responsibility of the leader is an obvious and heavy one.
  5. There is also a more detailed and specific kind of information to be acquired. If we really mean business about bringing young people on to be good citizens of the world to which they belong we must mean that we are aiming to produce a better-informed and more conscientious public opinion. And we must enable this public opinion to express itself, among other ways, by a livelier participation in local government. We agree with those who [page 16] believe that a more vigorous and representative local government will do much to express our national characters and ideals. To this end, we hope that the young people of our land will learn more about local conditions and local affairs than their fathers and mothers have ever known. In doing this they will be brought face to face with the facts of civic administration in the place where they live, learning the ABC of municipal affairs and equipping themselves with factual information about the way in which their county, borough or parish is run. They may come to this study in a variety of ways, through personal experience of intolerable housing conditions, inadequate public open spaces or the shortcomings of a rural water supply. Such enquiries, if they are properly presented and carried out, do not bore young people. There is in fact a good deal of enthusiasm, latent it may be but certainly present, waiting to be called out. But such knowledge of facts is no more than a means to an end. For just as knowledge of the facts narrated in the Gospels does not itself produce good Christians, so the knowledge of the facts of local government will not of itself guarantee the emergence of a generation of good citizens; the root of the matter is living together within a voluntary society of contemporaries with a life of its own which, the stronger and more healthy it is, will the more eagerly look forward and outward to the whole community of which it is an organic part.
  6. In conclusion, there are two points we wish to stress. The first is that the ideals we have set out cannot be attained until the provision for all these activities is quantitatively much greater throughout the country than it is at present. To-day the provision is inadequate, sporadic and haphazard, and hundreds of thousands of young people lack the physical opportunities for that enrichment of their lives which we have recommended. Much has been done; but it serves chiefly to show how much there still remains to do. The second is that when all is said and done, the strongest influence of all on a growing personality is that of another personality. A personal example goes for far more than lectures or books. Nothing but the best is good enough, and any leader of young people will be wise to put them in the way of familiarity with what is noblest in art, nature or the lives of men. More than any other years the years of youth are the time for contact with greatness.

(Signed) J. F. Wolfenden, Chairman.

Gco. A. Brown                      Alan Maberly

  1. H. Budd E. V. Sparks
  2. S. Byng R. F. Thurman
  3. G. Cookes J. A. F. Watson
  4. G. G. Herklots Joyce E. Wolton,
  5. G. Lampard-Vachell H. R. B. Wood
  6. A. S. Lytton-Milbanke
  7. E. Melvin (Secretary)

10th April, 1945.

To cite this piece: Ministry of Education (1945) The Purpose and Content of the Youth Service, London: HMSO. Reproduced in the informal education archives:

This piece has been reproduced here by the informal education homepage under licence from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

© Crown copyright 2000 (Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.)

First placed in the archives: July 2002