Chatting Critically- hopefully a complementary and stimulating blog

For quite a long time I’ve been mithered about my role in maintaining this IDYW blog. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy to continue as best I can, but at times I yearn for the freedom to be more controversial than might be becoming for a coordinator and for the space to write about stuff other than youth work. Hence I’ve created a new personal blog at Chatting Critically, which I hope will be complementary, challenging and of some interest. My attempted rationale is to be found below.

If you happen upon this new blog, Chatting Critically, and you’ve come across my thoughts as Coordinator of the In Defence of Youth Work web site, you might well wonder what I’m up to? Why do I need another outlet for my ramblings?

Three immediate reasons spring to mind.

In my role as coordinator of In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] through the eight years of its existence I’ve sometimes felt trapped between two stools. On the one hand I’ve worried that my perspective has carried too much weight as I comment on the undulations of the youth work landscape ; that I don’t reflect sufficiently [how could I?] the diverse opinions of those supportive of IDYW’s overarching commitment to a young person-centred, process-led practice. On the other I’ve also censured my more outlandish and dissident reflections, concerned that their appearance might damage IDYW’s image. All a bit tortuous, I know.

 In addition I’ve increasingly wanted to comment on the wider political scene, especially as the neo-liberal consensus fractures and alternatives, albeit fragile, emerge. Obvious possibilities for a rant are to be found within the turmoil besetting the Labour Party. Am I a Corbynista? More than a few good friends have pinned their colours to this particular red flag. And, am I alone in being deeply irritated at the almost Soviet style propaganda flooding the news channels, in which the parade of Olympian ‘heroes’ serves to mask the day-to-day experience of a deeply divided society? And it’s the fortieth anniversary of the Grunwicks strike, which I’d like to celebrate with a memory or two.

For quite a long time I’ve fancied bringing together in one place bits and pieces from the past, which still seem to resonate. Indeed the title of the blog, Chatting Critically, harks back to my crucial involvement in the Critically Chatting Collective, whose existence through the eighties and nineties was a huge source of strength. Steve Waterhouse, to whom this blog is dedicated, was a challenging, anarchic voice in our debates and activity. As things unfold I hope to post some of our relevant writings from that period on this blog.

Hence I’m hoping to use this blog as a medium for my opinionated musings on youth and community work, to which I’ll offer links on the IDYW web site plus my occasional rants on the meaning of life and why neo-liberalism, to borrow a phrase from my fellow Leyther*, Paul Mason, ‘doesn’t give a shit’.

As time goes by here’s hoping you might find stuff of some interest contained within and if you respond, I’ll be well chuffed.

*A Leyther hails from the town of Leigh, Lancashire in the North-West of England

CYP Now launches on Facebook | Children & Young People Now

Like the FB page and you’ll get updates.

Latest news about the children and young people sector is now available on Facebook, after CYP Now launched a dedicated page on the social media site.

Source: CYP Now launches on Facebook | Children & Young People Now

Guest Post: Who’s alienated now? Young people and the EU referendum – Exploring Youth Issues

Very interesting guest post on Alan Mackie’s blog exploring the relationship between ‘old’ and ‘young’ motivations in the vote to Remain or Leave.

By Dr. Emily Rainsford

For a long time youth scholars, including myself, have been arguing and showing empirically that young people are not apathetic or non-political. Instead we have argued that they are alienated from the political system that they don’t see as doing anything for them. Suddenly, in the wake of the EU referendum we see a new pattern. The younger generation turned up to the polling booth and voted to remain in the institution so many older people feel disenfranchised and alienated from. What is going on here?

Source: Guest Post: Who’s alienated now? Young people and the EU referendum – Exploring Youth Issues

The Collapse continues, but who’s listening, including Jeremy Corbyn?

cuts ys

Ta to NYA

I’ve been away from the IDYW desk for a week so I’m aware that bringing your attention to the latest UNISON report, ‘A Future at Risk’ is hardly breaking news. However this latest research into the continuing demise of open access youth work and the collapse of the local authority Youth Service provides crucial information in the struggle to turn back the tide.

UNISON argue that an estimated £387m has been cut from youth service budgets since 2010, adding there is “more of the same for youth services in the years to come. Already we can report that in the year 2016-17 and beyond, there is likely to be at least £26m more cuts in youth service spending, the loss of around 800 more jobs, more than 30 youth centres closed.”

For my part, whilst recognising the pragmatic attraction of the argument, I remain at odds with the overriding emphasis on the preventative role of youth work caught in this extract.

“These young people will have nowhere to turn, there will be no-one who is qualified or
trained to help support them with the issues they have. This will lead to more anti-social
behaviour, gangs, depression and poor mental health in young people, and increased
work for the police forces that have also been cut. Truancy will rise, school results
tables will be poor and homelessness could rise. Parents also need to know that their
children are safe and not getting into drugs, drinking alcohol or being bullied. A youth
centre is a safe place where young people are confined to one place where they can
hang out, receive the support and advice/leadership they may need. That might be
boosting their confidence, learning new skills and being taught about risks. Our centres
and staff help young people by working with other agencies putting them in touch
with counsellors, finding them somewhere to live, keeping them out of trouble with the
police, helping to turn lives around and giving them a positive future.”

Leave aside the notion of young people being confined to a place by youth workers, the failure to recognise youth work as an educational engagement with young people, which does not start from seeing them as immediate or future social problems, gives far too much ground to the targeted and behavioural agenda.

See BBC coverage at Youth services heading towards collapse, says union

Read the full report –  THE DAMAGE

Whatever my misgivings about some sections of the report it needs to be used widely in discussion with politicians, which brings me to the very recent interview with Jeremy Corbyn in the Observer. where he talks of reshaping education in Britain. Given he expresses a commitment to’ wrap around education’ and to the renaissance of adult education we might have hoped for an acknowledgement of youth work as a integral part of education ‘from cradle to grave’. Sadly there is none. Perhaps Jeremy has bought the line that youth work is a form of preventative welfare practice. I’m told that Jeremy does get youth work so the lack of reference may be no more than an oversight. If so, I think Jeremy missed a trick in omitting youth work from his educational plan of action. Hopefully those close to him might have a word in his ear.

Jeremy Corbyn interview

IDYW 7th National Conference, September 30 in Birmingham




FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 from 11.00 – 4.30


Back in April we postponed our national conference as a number of other broad initiatives were on the go, notably UK Youth with its concept of the Social Journey, the Training Agencies Group ‘shaping the future of youth work’ and ChooseYouth. We said at the time we hoped our rearranged conference would keep the debate about the future alive and ongoing. In this spirit we are holding our event on Friday, September 30 in Birmingham. Our themes, ‘Blurring the Boundaries?’ and ‘Re-Imagining Youth Work?’ raise questions for In Defence of Youth Work. and the youth sector as a whole.


In the morning session Annette Coburn and Sinead Gormally will challenge our emphasis on the voluntary relationship as a cornerstone of youth work’s distinctiveness, suggesting that IDYW’s position is an obstacle to ’thinking the unthinkable’, to the potential of reinventing youth work across professional boundaries. This challenging critique will be followed, after group discussion, by a report by Paul Fenton of the Training Agencies Group on the major themes arising from its series of conferences on ‘Shaping the Future’, particularly the impact of the changing landscape on the character of professional training.


In the afternoon we will seek to draw on your sense of what is happening on the ground. What sort of youth work are you involved in? What is your perspective on the future? This debate will be catalysed by a couple of inputs from projects such as Aspire Arts, which are charting different ways of keeping youth work alive. We wonder whether this sharing of your experience and your differing work situations might be the first step in mapping the diversity of provision brought about by the dramatic change in the economy of youth work.


In a final panel session involving amongst others, the Institute of Youth Work, ChooseYouth and UK Youth, we will grapple with the dilemmas of how we can cooperate rather than compete and how we can retain our integrity within a political climate, which favours conformity and compliance and funds accordingly.?


Further details to follow – confirming programme, speakers etc…


As for lunch, please bring your own as is our tradition.


Conference fee is a minimum of £10 waged, £5 students/unwaged.


To book a place contact


Please circulate the PDF flyer – Conference2016Flyer1

Troubled Families report ‘suppressed’

troubled families

Thus runs the title of a BBC News Report –  read in full at Troubled Families report ‘suppressed‘.

An unfavourable evaluation of the government’s flagship policy response to the 2011 riots has been suppressed, BBC Newsnight has learned.
The analysis found that the Troubled Families programme had “no discernible” effect on unemployment, truancy or criminality.
The initial scheme sought to “turn around” 120,000 households at a cost of around £400m.
The local government department denies that the report has been suppressed.
A spokesperson said: “There were several strands to the evaluation work commissioned by the last government and there is not yet a final report.”
The report, which the government has had since last autumn – and seen exclusively by BBC Newsnight – is embarrassing for ministers, who not only implemented the scheme, but have since decided to extend it. Officials have told Newsnight that they believe it would have been published, had it been positive.
Ministers had trumpeted previous data related to the scheme, which had suggested that 98.9% of families participating in the scheme had been “turned around”.
Furthermore, a second wave of the Troubled Families programme was announced in June 2013, and began to roll out in April 2015. It covers another 400,000 families at a further cost of £900m.
The “troubled families” programme was aimed at those affected by high unemployment, truancy and anti-social behaviour.
The scheme was intended to save money and prevent future rioting by reducing the problems of this group of disadvantaged families.
A senior civil servant told Newsnight that the report is “damning”, and attacked the scheme as “window-dressing”.

Back in February we put up a post, ‘Troubled Families is a fraudulent scam’- some thoughts from within. Clearly we weren’t far off the mark.

Also see the report, The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy?written by Stephen Crossley of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

No social policy can expect to achieve a 100 per cent success rate and yet,
according to government, the Troubled Families Programme has achieved
almost exactly that. The programme has apparently turned around the lives of
some of the most disadvantaged and excluded families in a remarkably short
period of time. All of this has occurred against a backdrop of cuts to local
services and welfare reforms which have hit, not just families, but also the
organisations and councils that deliver services to them. This briefing paper
traces the history of the programme and questions claims of success made by
government and their problematic use of data. Quite simply, the reported
successes of the Troubled Families Programme are too good to be true and
require closer public and political scrutiny than they have received to date.

State Funding for Police Cadets backed by research not yet carried out!


Ta to

It’s fascinating how ideological positions can change when it suits. Thus, in addition to funding directly the National Citizen Service, the government is now coughing up £1.8 million to the National Volunteer Police Cadets. Evidently the State can intervene if it so desires, can forego the private and ignore the invisible hand of the market, especially in the case of its behavioural modification programmes. Ah, but you say, this intervention is to be monitored by the Middlesex University. The only snag is everybody seems to have made their minds up already.

Hence as CYPN reports:

Researchers at Middlesex University will spend the next two years evaluating the usefulness of the cadet programme and how it helps young people to develop and improve the way they feel about authority.
[my emphasis]

Jeffrey DeMarco, research fellow in criminology and lead researcher at Middlesex University, said: “We’re very excited to be involved with this project. 

“Young people can have difficult relationships with authority but becoming a cadet can improve community relations and prevent run-ins with the police.”

That’s an independent and critical starting point.