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Broker can give youth a better deal;Community and youth;FE Focus

ENGLAND: How can we inspire disaffected young people? The TES finds different answers across Britain.

The Government's plan to give young people "personal and career mentors" is the brainchild of Tom Bentley, director of the independent think-tank Demos.

A former special adviser to Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, he proposed the plan - outlined in the post-16 White Paper, Learning to Succeed - to prevent youth drop-outs and stemming the erosion of youth services through wider, more efficient use of resources.

Youth-work leaders revealed in a TES Community and Youth special last week that the sector needs a huge boost in cash - pound;500 million from local authorities alone - to do the job ministers expect.

Mr Bentley wants greater co-ordination of youth services and policies in England. Having talked to young people across the country as part of the recent Demos study The Real Deal, he believes many of them are confused by the bewildering array of lifestyle choices, career paths and educational options open to them.

"The youth service needs to deal with the confusion arising from the fragmentation of the institutional map. We need a new kind of national service, we need to reinvent the profession."

A new kind of professional must arise out of the White Paper, he insists. "What's missing is a figure, known and trusted by young people, to knit together the resources and opportunities available to them."

Hence the "youth broker", a youth service professional who would be based in schools, colleges and youth centres, working with young people to help them access the services available.

Mr Blunkett has interpreted this as a personal rather than institutional figure and envisages around 10,000 mentors from youth, community and the world of business.

The youth broker idea was put forward by Mr Bentley at a National Youth Agency conference last month. He told 200 youth service and local authority professionals the youth service had an image problem which was "only partly undeserved".

A repeated message from youth organisations and local authorities is that greater coherence, co-ordination and consistency are needed in national and local government policy towards youth. They want a separate consultation paper on the youth service in addition to the post-16 White Paper.

Various government departments have introduced youth initiatives in the past two years, including the Department for Education and Employment's New Deal, the Home Office's youth justice bill, the Department for Trade and Industry's young workers' directive and the Health Service's programmes on healthy schools and teenage pregnancies.

But most conference delegates bemoaned the "lack of consistency" in the treatment of young people across Government departments.

One proposal strongly supported by the National Youth Agency and Local Government Association is for a ministerial taskforce (chaired by an education minister), which could monitor and co-ordinate what the different government departments were doing for young people.

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