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Shoes for the barefooted

A little-noticed passage in the Government's recent five-year education strategy announced the design of a "new integrated youth offer", which would be developed for a Green Paper this autumn.

This is timely. The past few years have seen a plethora of initiatives on young people, including Connexions and youth offending teams, but they have not added up to a coherent and co-ordinated strategy to meet their needs.

In particular, those living in the most disadvantaged circumstances are not benefiting fully and too much community-based provision has become timeworn. Meanwhile, innovative youth work struggles to go from prototype into production because it is undercapitalised and often lacks continuity in both staffing and funding.

The reform of the 14-19 curriculum, with its attention to wider activities beyond the formal classroom, the reconfiguration of services for children and young people through the Children Bill and the Treasury's current review of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds give an opportunity to resolve many of these issues and bring coherence.

The Government has a platform already in its Resourcing Excellent Youth Services document which, in 2002, set out an architecture for the modernisation of local services offering detailed standards of what should be provided, a plan for workforce development and powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where local authorities are failing to provide.

But the legislative basis remains weak and political will ebbs and flows both locally and nationally.

Three features are now essential for coherence. First, the "offer" must be comprehensive and explicitly shaped to the needs of different individuals and communities. It must be based on a philosophy about the development of young people towards "autonomy", not simply their containment, guidance or diversion into activity.

Second, a clear set of legal duties and explicit expectations on local authorities and others such as the Learning and Skills Council is needed before these bodies are properly held to account.

Third, the overall quantum of resource is both inadequate and badly distributed, not just in respect of particular localities but also into the wrong types of intervention. The Green Paper gives a chance now to pave the way for proper investment in these colleges of the street corner. And shoes for the barefoot educators who work in them.

Tom Wylie

Chief Executive

The National Youth Agency

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