Leadership of the sector

At the end of his response to my last post, Kevin Ford posed a question about the role of sector leadership. This really set me thinking and led me into an uncomfortable place but, nonetheless, a necessary one. This was partly because I have to own involvement in that greater sector leadership historically but, more importantly, because the more I thought the more his point rang true.

On reflection I’d argue that historically and currently we need to question the leadership of the youth sector – professionally, organisationally and academically [and I count myself in this given my time in Sunderland, Manchester and at APYCO] – who, over a long period, have singularly failed to convince sequential key stakeholders that youth work works. As a case in point, witness the volumes of evidence to the recent Select Committee. Never have I seen the rich yet highly competitive diversity of our sector so broadly portrayed. I know that youth work works. I have lived and breathed it for nearly four decades and my passion for it has never dimmed, a view shared by thousands of others, volunteers and paid staff, across our nation.

So why is it that now we have the Young Foundation trailing their Outcomes Framework for youth services, not youth work exclusively, wherever across the land, explaining little that we shouldn’t already know, but trying, in part, to respond to a deep-felt Government criticism that “… many services are unable or unwilling to measure the improvements they make in outcomes for young people.” That the Government feels “… the lack of a common measurement framework across the sector makes it extremely difficult for authorities to decide which services to fund” and that services should be able to “demonstrate what difference they make to young people.” And finally “… agreement is needed on a common set of standards.”

Bernard Davies could far more eloquently recount the times we have had opportunities to do exactly this [and I can go back myself to the Thompson and Milson-Fairbairn Reports] but, even in recent history, we have had Transforming Youth Work and Resourcing Excellent Youth Services as examples. I draw the line at ‘Positive for Youth’ because it is more a set of initiatives than a real policy agenda or framework.

So what gets in the way of taking those opportunities? I return to my point about leadership. I believe it has been and remains fragmented, divisive, territorial and competitive. Which is a great shame as the richness and diversity of the broad youth offer in this country is immense, with a strong heritage from both statutory and third sectors. Unfortunately this richness and diversity is also its Achilles heel, providing endless opportunity for dissent, disagreement and indecision, more often focused on adult agendas and personalities than on the young people who are purportedly the focus of the work. Maybe it will always be so … but at what price for young people now and for the future?

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