Campaign under Attack

In Tuesday’s Guardian [March 9] there is a sympathetic and measured piece on the dilemmas facing students training to be youth workers.

The future looks bleak for would-be youth workers – and the colleges that teach them.


It is well worth a read and then as you reach the Comments thread you might be thrown a little. A person under the pseudonym, Spoonface, launches an attack on our Campaign, declaring:

What makes me despair, though, is the number of (mostly older-generation) youth workers signing up to Tony Taylor’s ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ campaign, which is completely unconstructive. Taylor wants to defend traditional youth work, but does so by foot-stamping and complaint rather than by offering solutions. Youth work – as with any public service – has a duty to demonstrate to the taxpayer the worth of money spent on it. The IDOYW campaign seems to show that many youth workers do not understand this point. Youth work needs to figure out how it can demonstrate its value if it is to survive.

One of our supporters responds:

Your criticism of the “In Defence….” campaign highlights one of the difficulties faced by youth workers (many of whom, across the generations, support the campaign) trying to operate in the current climate. Nobody is denying that youth work should be accountable to the taxpayer / funding body / society in general, but what form that accountability takes is, and must be, open to debate. The campaign aims to defend youth work as an open ended, exploratory and democratic practice where the terms of the engagement and any “outcomes” are negotiated, on equal terms, with the participants. The difficulty arises when workers are tasked with working to prescribed (written previously) agendas such as increasing young people’s participation in employment and training, or reducing crime and ASB. While these may well be outcomes of the youth work process, the prescription of and measuring against these targets necessarily compromises the “democratic and emancipatory” nature of the work.

Forget the personal references –  it has kicked off a debate, to which you might want to contribute. Hopefully the discussion is reaching a wider audience than normal.


  1. Just as I rolled my sleeves up to join in I saw the comment that said: “Comments are now closed for this entry.”

  2. Is this still open for debate? There’s a bloke at my local pub who I’ve been debating with for years. He thinks black people should be transported away from our shores so that we may be left in peace to bask in the familiarity of a white, English culture. I approach this mini campaign armed with logic, fact, reason and with ethical integrity. But he has never once budged an inch. When you have reached an impasse you feel like you are wasting well-intentioned energy on an immovable force. I generally just sit at the other side of the pub these days. People have different perspectives which have been shaped by lots of different factors and some perspectives are right and some are wrong. We’re not all open to having our perspectives changed – the discomfort of cognitive dissonance is just too stressful. As an observation, I see a vast difference of perspective between the people who are immersed in needs-led, front-line delivery and others who are immersed in the great new strategic culture. So, some of us are being ruthlessly clubbed from behind by bureaucrats whilst we’re engaged in face-to-face youth work on the streets of our communities. Others are drawing up plans and considering which group of young people best suit their prescribed agenda – looking for square pegs to fit their square holes.

    I know I am right when I say prescribed targets in youth work are counter-productive and I can prove it. That’s the easy bit. The difficult bit is getting people to open their minds to logic. Logic seems to be a bit unfashionable these days. No time for logic, we have a system to feed. And what is the point of feeding the system with useless information and statistics anyway? Most of it is contrived and even forged.

    Read ‘Aiming High For Young People’. It is a living paradox. There’s a lot of rhetoric in the strategy about how the government recognises and acknowledges how effective the Third Sector organisations are at contacting and engaging the more marginalised groups in our communities. That’s great… but then they actively strip us of the tools and resources to be able to carry on doing our work. The pledges made by the government on the action plan and on the “Aiming High” strategy are blatantly deceitful. I can prove that too.

    What earthly reason would I have for engaging in conflict with the system? I have absolutely nothing to benefit but a hell of a lot to lose. I know I can’t win and I know that life would be easier if I conformed. I might even earn me some money. But what about integrity… and what about my values… and what of logic? If I put them away so that I can “play the game” then there is nothing left for me to offer. I know I’ll lose in the end. There’s a shelf-stacking job waiting just for me at some Tesco store somewhere.

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