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Youth agency 'fearful'

Too much time spent on youngsters and not enough policy, says Assembly.

Andrew Mourant reports

The Wales Youth Agency has concentrated too much on young people and too little on policy, say Welsh Assembly officials.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and seen by TES Cymru cite the agency's emphasis on working with the young as one of "a number of difficulties over the last three years".

The comment was made by civil servants in a report recommending to Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, that the Assembly ceases funding the agency and takes over its functions.

"The organisation clearly focused on youth work rather than fully encompassing the Youth Support ServicesYoung People's Partnerships agenda," it says.

In their report, officials said that the Agency "has been unable, and to an extent unwilling, to engage in the Extending Entitlement agenda during the past three years, particularly in supporting the youth service to engage fully at local levels".

Extending Entitlement is the Assembly's policy for young people aged 11 to 25. It is intended to ensure that they get access to the services and support they need to achieve their full potential.

For John Rose, agency acting chief executive, the revelation was a bolt from the blue. "They're saying the youth service is not about young persons' provision," he said. "What is its future?

"They've never grumbled before. They approve our plan that forms the basis on which they give us money and visit four times a year to check what we're doing. I think those who support the service will be in an extremely difficult position. We're very fearful. How will agency staff be treated?"

Mr Rose is now considering his position. The documents also accuse the agency of making "insufficient progress on... consulting with key stakeholders following a review in 2002". They said issues relating to "management, communication, partnership development and service portfolio" inhibited effectiveness.

The Wales Youth Agency is among several bodies being subsumed by the Assembly as part of first minister Rhodri Morgan's "bonfire of the quangos", aimed at reducing bureaucracy.

Its role is to support and develop youth work within Wales. This includes training sessions in schools, as well as school-exclusions projects. It has 14 full-time staff and 60 consultant field workers. Courtney Taylor, assistant acting chief executive of the WYA, said that the agency concentrated on the commitment to youth work because it believed that was its remit.

And John Williams, headteacher of Pen y Dre, a 1,100-pupil comprehensive in Merthyr Tydfil, claims that youth work has played a big part in helping to improve the behaviour, learning and prospects of disaffected pupils.

The school employs half a dozen personal development and learning coaches from various youth and community work backgrounds. Concentrating on the key stage 4 age group and working to a learning agenda, they fulfil roles ranging from liaising with parents to running holiday activities.

"Without them, exclusions would be higher," said Mr Williams. "Youngsters are getting more saleable qualifications. It's run by us in school, but the WYA had an input from the start and we still get good support."

Ms Davidson decided in March that the Assembly would stop funding the agency from the end of this year. The Community and Youth Workers' Union recently called for urgent action and investment.

A spokesman for the Assembly government insists that the new arrangements will offer more coherent services, with youth work at the heart of the policy.

He said: "There have been management problems at the Wales Youth Agency, which have been openly acknowledged by the WYA Board. The new arrangements are a positive move forward for young people in Wales, and will provide the support that youth work needs."

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