Minister vows to fix 'dire' youth services

6th April 2001 at 01:00
Government to increase number of inspections, reports Ngaio Crequer

THE Government is proposing a radical shake-up of the youth service because of concerns that it is providing low-quality support.

In an exclusive interview Malcolm Wicks, lifelong learning minister, told FE Focus: "There have to be very, very radical changes. While there is some excellent work in both the voluntary and statutory sectors, too much of it is mediocre, and some is downright dire.

"Some local education authorities are spending insignificant amounts of money on the youth service.

"Connexions (the new help and advice service for 13 to 19-year-olds) has many strengths, but it needs to be complemented by a strong, local youth service."

There is an enormous range in the amounts spent by authorities on youth services. The money is not ring-fenced and authorities decide how much they want to spend.

In 1999-2000 Kensington and Chelsea came top of the youth service league, spending pound;261.14 per person. Next came Islington (pound;173.63), Wandsworth (pound;166.16) and Southwark (pound;161.24), according to the Local Authority Youth Services. Fourteen authorities spend over pound;100 per head. But 41 authorities spend less than pound;50 per head, less than 1 per cent of their overall education spending. Hampshire is at the bottom with pound;29.62, Portsmouth (pound;29.73) and Bedfordshire (pound;29.73).

Graham Lane, chair of the Local Government Association said that some local authorities did not value the youth service and simply spent money on other things.

"Some delegated the money to schools, or put it into adult or community work, some put it into other budges such as leisure, which did not count as youth work."

He said he supported an overhaul as long as the youth service was seen in its widest sense, and not necessarily tied to particular institutions. "It can be a service for young people and to young people, rather than things that are done to them."

The Government is to increase the number of inspections by the Office for Standards in Education and introduce a more robust follow-up system.

Of the most recent 29 inspections, OFSTED considered nine youth services to be good or very good, nine satisfactory and 11 to be unsatisfactory or poor. But only nine of the 150 youth services offered by authorities are inspected each year.

"I am worried that OFSTED reports are not taken as seriously as they might be," said Mr Wicks. He has written to local authorities asking them to produce action plans to address issues raised during inspection. The Department for Education and Employment, and Connexions, have launched a consultation paper, Transforming Youth Work. It sets out to challenge "second and third-rate provision" and to promote "intervention and prevention" to address individual, institutional and policy causes of disaffection and inclusion.

Mr Wicks said: "We want all young people to have the opportunity to do youth work, be it in music, sport, voluntary activities or whatever. In this way they can improve their own communities.

"Some older people think the young are anti-social, putting up all the graffiti, but that is not true. We need to turn things around so that every young person has a major contribution to make."

Doug Nicholls, 28

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