Hopefully fuelling further exchanges Tom Wylie responds to the discussion paper, Where Next for the IDYW Campaign?
WHERE NEXT FOR THE CAMPAIGN ?
May I make brief comments on a few aspects of this challenging paper .
On ‘the voluntary relationship ‘
There is a danger in being too precious about this component. If a youngster decides to play in a Sunday football team is this youth work ? Probably not because we see youth work as containing other features. For me these include a focus on personal ,social and political education ;the deployment of particular approaches including experiential learning; and the presence of a particular value base (along the lines originally expressed by Bernard Davies and now in IDYW papers). A voluntary relationship ,sometimes within constrained structural arrangements , is an important aspect of these values but not a principle.
On ‘outcomes’. IDYW is a campaign , not an academic discussion. So we need to consider the battleground . Of course if people want to do youth work without public subsidy towards their wages they can proceed as they like. But commonly,and increasingly , it is in competition with all manner of public services. Saying ‘we have convivial conversations and take it from there…’ is not likely to prove a particularly convincing argument in a struggle for resources . It is also possible to come at the issue of outcomes in different ways. For example , as targets defined in advance for individuals or cohorts; or as a way of reporting the results of interventions . At the very least ,it seems to me, youth work needs to be able to identify the groups with whom it intends to work ,to identify the kinds of experiences and relationships it aspires to offer ,and to demonstrate-with metrics as well as stories- the beneficial consequences of the work.
On pragmatism ,Bernard has posted elsewhere on the tensions for managers as well as workers of operating within contemporary structures, both in local authorities and the voluntary sector, I wish to make a comment on the national scene. Staff in these bodies can also be constrained by their sources of income. Not simply because the cash is usually tied to specific programmes but also because governments of any colour don’t like criticism of their policies. But we should expect leaders of national bodies at least to be making a coherent case in public for the benefits of youth work;when did you last see any national youth work figure reported in the national press or appearing on national TV or radio ?
The IDYW campaign is playing a useful role in encouraging many field –based colleagues to keep battling on in the face of major cuts to services. The recent US elections should give us pause. It is possible to maintain an ideological purity which pleases one’s core supporters (ask the Republicans what happened next ). Or a campaign can blend passion, solidarity and data to pursue a cause (give Barack Obama a call ) .
A much appreciated shot across the bows from Tom Wylie re our recent post
A measure of righteous wrath has been expressed about the assertion in the recent evaluation report on National Citizens Service that the programme’s community service element can be shown to have an economic benefit. Why the surprise ? Similar claims have been made down the years for such schemes,including Blunkett’s Millennium Volunteers and the work of V. Indeed, youth organisations such as the Scouts or Guides have from time to time deployed the argument that youth work undertaken by their volunteer leaders would otherwise cost £XXX when compared to the alternative of employing paid youth work staff. Indeed,some in the voluntary youth sector have made a life’s work out of claiming that its servants,whether paid or voluntary, can always go further and faster than the servants of the state.
A conservative –led government, intent on rolling back the welfare state, will always welcome such arguments. Moreover, the youth work sector as a whole has often compared the modest costs of its provision when compared,say, with incarcerating the young,or their unemployment. This argument may well be true but youth work has not been so good at demonstrating ,as distinct from asserting, how it prevents such negative outcomes.
The political reality is that HM Treasury expects any case for state-funded social programmes,especially new programmes , to show the potential economic return on investment (ERI). It has an elaborate set of requirements though many of these may be a form of financial smoke and mirrors given the intrinsic difficulties in doing the sums. Some advocates have turned to making a rather wider case about potential additional social benefits (SRI), not just economic ones . Such attempts may prove no less problematic ,though they may be a bit more appealing to the youth work sector with its traditional distaste for any metrics,especially economic ones.
Youth work’s wrath would be more usefully focussed on real concerns about NCS ,notably the increasingly apparent attempts to claim the moon by way of likely success while simultaneously cutting corners and costs. We could also do with an explanation of why some major national bodies in the field have aligned themselves with commercial servicing companies and rather questionable procurement practices (beyond the obvious one that some will make any sort of Faustian pact to get money ).
As we reported briefly in our last post, Tom Wylie has been appointed as specialist adviser to the Select Committee inquiring into services for young people. His accession to this role has been warmly received.
Doug Nicholls, national officer for community and youth workers and the not-for-profit sector at Unite, welcomed Wylie’s appointment: “Tom is the right person at the right time to advise the select committee at this moment of huge danger for youth work and the youth service. His immense knowledge of the evidence that underpins our understanding of the impact of youth work will be of great value.
Andy Hillier of CYPN comments that:
During his time at the NYA between 1996 and 2007, the agency was credited with helping to convince the Labour government to create the youth opportunity fund and youth capital fund and invest in the Myplace youth centre programme.
There is no doubt that Tom has a long and distinguished career in the service of young people as this brief biography indicates:
Tom Wylie took up the appointment as Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency in 1996 from a post as Assistant Director of Inspection for the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). He retired from NYA in August 07, and is now a trustee of Young Minds and of Rathbone. Tom also chairs an advisory group on young adults for the Financial Services Authority. He was born and educated in Belfast where he was a teacher and youth worker. Moving to England in 1970, he worked for the Scout Association and the National Youth Bureau. He became one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education in 1979 and held various national responsibilities including managing the Inspectorate’s Divisions responsible for youth and community work, for educational disadvantage and for curriculum. He has served on various governmental advisory groups; the Board of The Prince’s Trust and committees of the Economic and Social Research Council and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In his spare time he enjoys playing hockey.
Yet, in the last few years Tom has been less than impressed with our Campaign. Indeed in the latest Youth and Policy he articulates his dismissal of our evident romanticism, extolling the virtues of his own principled pragmatism. Read his perspective in full , Youth Work in a Cold Climate
As it happens we received a few weeks ago a critical response to Wylie’s article penned by Bernard Davies. We were not quite sure what to with Bernard’s challenging polemic and this spurred us to create a sister site, Critical Exchanges. Go there to read Bernard’s thoughts and to join in! Our thinking is that this site/blog might be the place where supporters and critics are encouraged to enter into animated debate about the issues facing us. As ever this might be pie in the sky, but certainly Bernard’s piece gets us off to a lively and topical beginning.
In saying all this we wish Tom all the best in his new position and hope that he recognises that the pragmatists are rudderless without the romantics and vice-versa!