The Select Committee Report … helpful or not?

The much awaited report of the Education Select Committee on Services for Young People was published today. It is not hard-hitting … but does roast a few old chestnuts! It also tackles the Government on their perspective about young people in some ways. Key thoughts for me were:

  • They did not believe there were any truly universal youth services and preferred the term ‘open access’ and urged the Government to do the same! Hooray for common sense! I’ve banged on about this for years. It’s simple – without a universal budget there can be no universal services! Besides which the youth service in England has targeted or ‘rationed’ services for decades – by budget mainly, but also by disadvantage, by geography, by gender and so on and so on!
  • They urged the Government to remind local authorities of their statutory duty to secure young people’s access to sufficient educational and leisure time activities! Unfortunately, too little too late would be my thought!
  • They did offer the view that open-access services might be just as effective in meeting certain outcomes for young people as targeted services and that commissioners should take this into account and act so! Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with their view, the state of youth commissioning in this country is generally so lamentable [and target focused] that I doubt this will have any impact!
  • Considering measuring impact and value, the Committee remained unconvinced about the impact and effectiveness of youth services, despite a deluge of witness evidence and some very erudite written  commentary! They suggested that the Government include a meta-analysis of such studies as part of its forthcoming youth strategy. The point would be what exactly? If a whole bunch of worthy and notable people, including many academics, couldn’t convince them in evidence what would raking around in the musty halls of earlier academic study achieve? I fully understand the desire and need to prove impact and value but on what basis? Youth services are not uniform nor homogeneous! They are politically led, vicariously managed and funded, and have only in recent years caught up with the performance management agenda! This is not comparing apples with apples but something wholly different. The wholesale dismantling of services in recent months surely demonstrates that?
  • What was most interesting though was the Committee’s belief that good youth services can have a transformational effect on young people’s lives – so is this felt rather than known? Maybe that’s why  they became frustrated by failing to uncover a robust outcome measurement framework? What happened to those much vaunted IT systems then?  Were they just the product of super slick selling as distinct to real added value? And the Committee wanted to be able to have something that would allow services  to be compared! We are back to apples and pears again … and a complete lack of understanding about the political nature of this whole service delivery! Not to mention a New Labour predilection for assessing the far end of everything … interesting in a Coalition controlled Committee!
  • This was all wrapped up in the need for publicly funded services, in a tight spending settlement,  to prove what difference they make to young people. The tight spending settlement to me is less material. At any time the delivery of a public service should prove the difference they make to those who access its services. Unfortunately, convincing people of this is as much a ‘selling’ exercise as it is an evidential one, inspite of the huge disparities across England, and these are lessons hard come by in the youth service nationally. My opinion would be that the lack of a mandated set of standards from Government has set the seal on this whole sorry state of affairs! Will the NCVYS or New Philanthropy Capital’s models give an answer … this remains to be seen!
  • On funding I thought the Committee were consistent with their difficulties in understanding value/impact/difference made … and so became confused between what statutory and voluntary agencies can do in this arena … and lack lustre in their direction to Government on the subject. I do, however, thank the Committee for recognising what local authorities are doing in the current climate in Paragraph 61 of the report.
  • I smiled when I read that the Government’s lack of urgency in articulating  a youth policy or strategic vision was deemed regrettable. Given the damage already done to services nationally, you could be forgiven for re-working a phrase along the ‘stable … bolted … closing … horse … door’ model! As if statutory draft guidance is really going to have any impact in a tight financial situation? And when was the last time a Government intervened on securing services for young people … beyond schooling?However, I would personally support direction on clear, relevant and proper national standards!
  • Seeing local authorities as primarily strategic commissioners may seem sensible but some of the alternates offered in Paragraph 83 are unproven [which is not in itself a bad thing] … and others have a history littered with failure! I have direct experience of the Surrey-type model and it adds up to a store of amusing but not necessarily helpful anecdotes.
  • I liked the notions proposed in terms of  guidance to commissioners and the Committee’s comments on payment for services. It seems to recognise many of the inherent difficulties agencies face, particularly smaller voluntary sector bodies, in managing commissioned funding. I was also heartened to see their recommendation on a feasibility study on social impact bonds as another addition to the spending agenda for youth services.
  • The Committee’s support for scaling back the bureaucratic nature of CRBs was also helpful. I was absolutely fascinated, after years of struggle to move to a degree-only profession, that they challenged why a degree should be the only route into qualified youth work status! However the overlap between this, the lack of title protection, the license to practice,  and a range of other matters to do with the serious under-investment in the profession of youth work leaves something to be desired! To say that investment in continuing professional development would be particularly worthwhile in enabling practitioners to share good practice and new ways of working between services was a major understatement! The Committee clearly was not convinced about a number of things and were left with a range of questions about qualifications, training and continuing professional development. Whether an Institute for Youth Work would resolve these failings remains to be seen?
  • Finally, the Committee reserved some of its more punishing commentary for the Government’s NCS scheme and  recommended that the Government protect those additional funds earmarked for NCS and divert them into year-round youth services! Now that was music to my ears!
It is clear that key messages remain unanswered on the basis of this report and, given the wealth of evidence presented, it is still clear that for many in youth services and associated realms like universities, the ability to sell ‘youth work’ remains elusive! I wonder when anyone will begin to seriously address that fundamental need?
To read the full report you should log on to the Committee’s website:
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