Positive for youth?

Linda Jack
Thursday, January 5, 2012

When the government published its Positive for Youth policy statement a couple of weeks ago a tweet from @sammymoggas really summed it up nicely for me – "seems the Positive for Youth strategy came with a free pair of rose tinted spectacles".

There is little to disagree with in the paper, it truly is "positive for youth", committed to involving young people in the decisions that affect their lives, supporting their families, declaring "we will move away from measuring negative outcomes", centred on young people and clearly aspirational. It has, however, one fatal flaw – it appears to be operating in a parallel universe! It comes with no new funds attached, no new powers to support its implementation and no clear sense of how the strategy can be delivered.

There is no doubt that Tim Loughton is probably the most supportive minister the sector could wish for at the moment. He came and spoke to us just before the paper was published (as I pointed out, a little late for us to be able to influence it!). However, it was striking that he is someone who is inclusive, who listens, who genuinely cares and wants to improve the outcomes, particularly for our most vulnerable young people. For example, no-one could be more committed to improving things for looked-after children. 

The problem, it seems to me, is that he has little clout and even less resource to make what he wants to happen - happen and he has a Secretary of State who has no concept of the importance of taking a holistic approach to education.

So back to the document. It is strong on analysis, recognising the importance of peer pressure, access to financial resources and the importance of understanding how brain development impacts on young people's behavior. But then there is no follow through in terms of what this should mean for public policy. For instance, something I care passionately about and is also now Lib Dem policy is the raising of the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

And there is little sense of irony in the statement that the government "will also ensure that young people have a meaningful curriculum that suits them" at a time when there is a move away from vocational to academic!

Another example where the paper, in my view, spectacularly fails to take account of the reality of the current situation in the sector is when it recognises the important role of youth workers, in particular detached youth workers, but with no mention of the decimation many of our youth services are currently facing! Or the correct recognition of the important role of educational psychologists in supporting young people with mental health issues. It fails to acknowledge so many of them have gone.

Aspirationally, this paper is on track, I might not fully agree with the complete analysis (another post coming I think on social mobility!) but it would be difficult to fault the thorough examination of most of the issues facing our young people. I am less convinced that it will have much impact, except where policies are already in train and funded - I welcome the Youth Contract but would like to see it take a much more holistic approach to meeting the needs of Neet young people. What I do think though is that the paper in one sense provides us with a useful stick to beat the government with. This is what you say your approach to youth policy is, therefore why are you doing that?