Club class

Is there a youth club in your neighbourhood? Chances are, if it
hasn’t closed down, it’s in a prefab or dingy hall in urgent need
of repair and is only open one night a week. And, unless it gets
its funding from one of the youth justice programmes such as Splash
aimed at diverting those at risk of offending, the kinds of
activities on offer for young people are those that can be provided
on a shoestring.

The flipside of this story of neglect and underfunding is that by
and large youth service managers and workers have been left to
their own devices to set their priorities and work in the way they
have seen fit. Unusually in the public sector, youth workers for
years escaped the strictures of targets and performance indicators
that have become part of the scenery of public service

But that is now set to change. Two years ago, the government
realised that a “modernised” youth service could help it meet some
of its objectives and help divert young people from the attractions
of drugs, unemployment and early pregnancy. So, 10 months later
education secretary Charles Clarke published Transforming Youth

Key elements include new targets for the number of young people to
be engaged in youth provision and a requirement for services to be
targeted at vulnerable groups. Controversially, there is a new
target for 60 per cent of young people participating to obtain some
form of accredited outcome for their learning.

Accreditation involves gaining a youth achievement award such as
the Duke of Edinburgh scheme or Asdan Challenge. Norman Saggers, a
detached youth worker in north London explains: “Young people set
their own targets with the help of a youth worker. They work
towards them over two or three months and get a certificate at the
end of it. It’s about raising self-esteem and achieving agreed

The kinds of activities which can be accredited range from
participating in a group discussion about drugs and health to
spending a weekend doing outdoor activities or participating in
community work. Accreditation can be used both for out-of-school
hours activities and during school time for young people who have
been excluded or dropped out of school.

The government is also tightening up the inspection framework for
youth services and have threatened to intervene in services judged
to be failing. In December Ofsted announced that every youth
service was to be inspected on a four yearly cycle.

The plans have provoked a fierce debate between on the one side the
modernisers who see them as bringing new professionalism, status
and resources, and on the other the traditionalists who believe the
changes threaten the very essence of good youth work.

Tom Wylie, chief executive of the National Youth Agency (NYA) is
firmly in the modernisers’ camp. Wylie believes that the service
was in need of reform and that Transforming Youth Work
reflected changes already happening in the field. “There is a
strand of thinking that it is enough to hang round a pool table and
engage in convivial conversation,” he says. “That’s not my view.
Too much provision has been low intensity recreation. Targets are
now sharper plus there’s a much clearer standardisation of
provision. All of that is improving youth work provision.”

Tony Jeffs, lecturer in youth and community work at the University
of Durham, is unapologetically traditional. He says: “The good
thing [about Transforming Youth Work] is that it
reasserted the idea that the youth service is important and that
there are serious gaps in provision. The bad thing is that it takes
such a narrow view. I don’t think it will help people work in a
creative way.”

Mark Smith, who lectures in youth work at the YMCA College in
London, believes the outcome measures are unhelpful. He says: “You
can measure the output, but you can’t honestly measure the impact
on an individual young person. It would need really massive social
research to get at that.”

Smith is concerned that the emphasis on accredited learning risks
alienating the young people the government is seeking to reach. He
explains: “It’s not about what young people want. It’s about
delivering government policy. For organisations receiving
significant government money, [the targets] are a very significant
constraint on what they can do. A lot of young people don’t want to
be engaged in accredited activities. The more vulnerable the young
people are, the less likely they are to want to be involved if they
feel it means being told what to do by adults.”

It’s hard to deny that short-term outcomes fit awkwardly with a
service that has always taken a long-term view of young people’s
development. At its core youth work is about building relationships
with young people to create opportunities for personal development.
How can short-term objectives really address the longer term goals
of personal and social change?

Malcolm Payne, professor of youth policy at De Montford University
is conducting an evaluation of youth work for the Department for
Education and Skills. He says: “The jury is still out on the
targets. The danger of increasing the proportion of youth work that
is accredited is that youth workers may be more likely to engage
with young people who are easier to work with.”

However, Payne also thinks that good youth workers can find ways of
ensuring young people’s learning is accredited. “A young person can
get a taste for being recognised. If an adult is saying that
something they have done is valuable, and they’ve been excluded
from school, for example, that’s enormously important.”

Norman Saggers is not finding that the requirement for more of
young people’s learning to be accredited is preventing him from
working with the most vulnerable groups. “It comes down to how
workers sell it to young people,” he says. “You can do [the
accreditation] on anything – climbing, horse riding, whatever
they’re interested in. They’ll do it because they enjoy it and if
they get a certificate at the end of it that’s even better.

“We’re working with looked-after kids, kids at risk of exclusion or
crime. If you’re going to run a course – say on drugs and personal,
social and health education – there’s an attendance requirement
that’s hard to meet. A lot of work has to go into it but you can
produce accredited stuff that the kids can do.”

Despite the extra work, Saggers believes that the changes arising
from the Transforming Youth Work agenda are mostly
positive. He says: “It’s certainly changing the way youth work is
delivered. It does mean more paperwork and form-filling. That means
less time for face-to-face stuff. But it requires a more
professional approach to the work.”

He is less impressed by what he sees as a devaluing of traditional
generic work. “There’s a lot of pressure not to do open door stuff
– just drop in and play pool. My view is that you need the
traditional work so you can build up relationships to talk them
into doing a course. Getting young people to do things they haven’t
done before can take a lot of persuasion.”

Payne is also concerned that generic youth work should not be lost.
He says: “Youth workers need to have a general presence in the
community. If they only work with marginalised youth they could end
up being seen by young people as social workers. It fundamentally
changes who they are.”

Everyone – including the government – agrees that a genuine
transformation of youth work requires extra spending. But so far,
aside from a miserly £33m for development work and management
training, there is little sign that the government is willing to
dig into its pockets. It thinks local authorities should give
greater priority to youth work within their already overstretched
budgets. Many are spending less than half the recommended £100
a year per teenager – way below their standard spending assessment
for youth provision.

Wendy Bailey, a youth work manager in London, finds that resources
and recruitment are major problems. She says: “We’re expected to
meet the targets but we’re grossly understaffed. There is a
national shortage of youth and community workers and the government
needs to look at creative ways of enabling unqualified staff to get

Poor pay and conditions are also an issue. Youth workers are
increasingly taking jobs as personal advisers for Connexions. They
are also attracted by learning mentor positions in schools or roles
in the teenage pregnancy service where their skills are in demand
and there isn’t the same requirement to work evenings and

Jeffs says youth clubs are still closing because of a lack of
funding. “Everything is a mish-mash of short-term time-limited
money. People are perpetually chasing funding.” He refers to a
study he has been working on for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,
into detached outreach work – precisely the kind of work most
likely to engage hard-to-reach youth that the government applauds.
“We did a national survey and picked out 35 of the most innovative
projects and monitored them for 18 months. Almost a fifth of them
closed. There were all sorts of reasons but almost all were about

Jeffs adds: “You don’t build up a good youth centre or detached
youth service in three years. The lack of long-term funding means
people don’t invest in projects. If you look at organisations in
the voluntary youth sector such as the YMCA and the clubs movements
that have been around for 100 years there’s a sense of permanence
that is totally lacking in the public sector.”

With anxieties growing about young people hanging round the streets
with nothing to do, or getting obese through too much TV and
computer games, now seems like a good time to think again about how
much priority we give to the youth services.

Key elements of the government’s

1. Standards and performance indicators for youth work

The government has set new targets for youth work provision in
England, including that:   

  • The service should aim to reach 25 per cent of 13-19 year
  • Of the 25 per cent reached, 60 per cent should undergo personal
    and social development which results in an accredited
  • The proportion of young people reached should include a locally
    agreed target for those not in education, employment or training
    (Neet), or who are at risk of teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol or
    substance abuse or offending. 
  • 70 per cent of young people participating should express
    satisfaction with the service.   

Performance indicators for the youth service now include:   

  • Spending per young person in 13-19 age range. 
  • Spending per young person in priority groups. 
  • Number of personal and social development opportunities and
    activities lasting between 10 and 30 hours and with a recorded
  • Number of personal and social development opportunities offered
    to young people lasting from 30 to 60 hours and leading to an
    accredited outcome.

2. Youth work curriculum   

The government has not laid down a national curriculum for youth
work. The guidance on curriculum design acknowledges that youth
work needs to engage with young people’s interests as well as with
social issues like health and crime. Each local authority and
national voluntary youth organisation is expected to devise its own
curriculum, based on the following elements  

  • Learning outcomes derived from themes or topics based on
  • Ways of teaching and learning to achieve these outcomes. 
  • Performance criteria for assessing whether these outcomes have
    been achieved.

3. The new inspecting regime for the
youth service

  • The number of Ofsted inspections is being increased to a four
    yearly cycle, with “more robust” follow-up, and full re-inspections
    after two years for services giving cause for concern. 
  •  The government has said that the education secretary will use
    existing powers to intervene if a local authority is judged to be
    failing to provide strategic leadership for the youth service or
    ensure “high quality provision”

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