Youth Justice Board interim chair Robb talks to Community Care

Robb’s CV

Born in London in 1953, Robb became a geography teacher and spent 12 years working as a head teacher, most recently at Drayton School in Oxfordshire.

He left teaching in 2004 to become adviser to the Department for Education and Skills, including working with the Behaviour and Attendance Division on reducing violence in schools. He is married with three children.

I am sitting in the Youth Justice Board’s central London headquarters when Graham Robb bounds in. He has been at the gun crime summit with the prime minister.

Concerned about being late for our appointment, the former head teacher took it upon himself to dash the 400 metres from Downing Street. If he is as committed to addressing the sector’s current problems as he is to keeping appointments, his six months as interim YJB chair will not be wasted.

Robb had already served for two years as a board member when he was asked last month to step into the breach and act as interim chair for six months until the post is permanently filled.

It is a tough time for the YJB. While Robb is keen to emphasise its recent achievements, there is no getting away from the fact that it is in what many observers consider to be a crisis, brought to a head in January by Rod Morgan’s resignation and his criticism of the government for swamping the secure estate.

“I was very sorry when I heard – his knowledge of the system and ability to analyse was unsurpassed. He’s a very hard act to follow.”

Robb accepts the resignation, combined with talk of a restructure of the Home Office, has created anxiety among the workforce – people who “just do not get enough credit for the difficult work they do”.

The board will “continue to make the case” for supporting young people, he says, stressing its capacity as a non-departmental public body to “build a bridge” between the Home Office and Department for Education and Skills, where he worked as an educational consultant.

But the worst for the board could still yet come. The current inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt and the forthcoming hearing into the suicide of Adam Rickwood will put the board’s work and its role in protecting and safeguarding children under the spotlight.

With legal proceedings continuing, Robb says he cannot discuss either case. But, unprompted, he expresses his sympathy for the boys’ parents. “I am a father and I can’t imagine what it must be like for them going through this.” Pausing, he adds: “What can I say?”

There is a sincerity and a likeability to Robb that will serve him well in helping the board to get heard by ministers and in his rumoured desire to be appointed full time. But that is an area he will not discuss.

I ask him what his vision is for the secure estate and how near we are to achieving it. He talks of the need to acknowledge that some children need to be in secure accommodation but says there must be “a better strategic tie up” between the secure provision for criminal justice, mental health and residential children’s and welfare provision.

Earlier, discussing the gun crime summit, he raises the need to use enforcement powers to take children who use guns as part of gangs “out of circulation” as “a priority”, and of the need to safeguard all children by offering better choices.

Education is at the core of his vision, in particular the educational outcomes of children in the youth justice system and how they match up with the Every Child Matters agenda. Transferring the individualised learning plans used in schools into education in the secure estate is one area he wants to look at.

He says that children have the right to a better future through education, whether they are in schools, youth offending teams or the secure estate. “Learning is about giving children choices to have a better futures. Sometimes the children will not make the [best] choices but we have got to do our damnedest to give them the chance.”

Contact the author
Helen McCormack

This article appeared in the 1 March issue of the magazine, under the headline “Morgan is a hard act to follow”

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