The debate about whether or not responsibility for youth policy should be sited in Cabinet Office or the Department for Education, is for me, if you’ll excuse the pun, a tad academic. The crucial issue is the decimation of the sector and I believe we should judge the relevance of this move by the ultimate outcome – more or less recognition of and investment in, youth services?
I agree with those from the voluntary sector who welcome the move because it should ensure youth policy is at the heart of government policy. And I agree with Tim Loughton MP, that there is a danger in breaking that traditional link with education. I well remember the endless debates in the youth service about whether we should be in Leisure or Education departments and I was always firmly of the view that as an education service our place was evident. After all, I often joke I left teaching to become a youth worker because I was interested in learning. So it seems to me, one of the answers would have been to have a minister responsible for youth with a brief in both Education and the Cabinet Office, something that could still happen if the government has the imagination – after all David Laws already straddles both departments.
As others have pointed out, to break the link between youth work and education is short sighted at best and vandalism at worst. Sadly Michael Gove’s frighteningly narrow understanding of education reflects a man who appears to have no real interest in those children and young people who are already being failed by the system. I couldn’t agree more with the comments of Labour MP Tristram Hunt, who hit the nail on the head. Recognising how good youth work contributes to attainment, he observes in relation to Mr Gove – “He has undermined careers services, scrapped work experience, dismissed the importance of creative subjects, downgraded important vocational qualifications such as the engineering diploma, and cancelled the school sports partnership.”
His observation however that “…with this transfer, his government has now set its guns on what remains of our youth services,” may well be right, but it may also provide an opportunity to reinforce the value of the service. So having Nick Hurd as the minister, someone who does seem to recognise the value of youth work, may be more of an opportunity than a threat.
Sadly, current youth policy fails to recognise the importance of youth work in meeting the needs of our young people and is consequently undermining the effectiveness of the policies that are in place. Only last week we learned that there will be an economic motion going to the Lib Dem Conference from Nick Clegg which calls for government to: Take radical action to tackle stubbornly high youth unemployment by developing a comprehensive strategy for 16- to 24-year-olds ensuring that all young people have access to the skills, advice and opportunities necessary to find sustainable employment.
For any such strategy to work it must take a holistic view – I will be playing my part from within the Lib Dems to call for that and I hope all those of you who have the ear of the minister will do the same.
Linda Jack is a member of the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families, and former member of the Federal Policy Committee