Which Experts Inform The Institute of Youth Work Proposal?

The third theme of our January seminars was the emergence of the proposal that we need an Institute for Youth Work [IYW]. The flyer for the initiative tells us, ‘through the work of the Catalyst partnership NYA is facilitating a first phase consultation to establish the level of support for an IYW. The findings will then steer the path of work going forward’. We have already posted a response from Bernard Davies and Malcolm Ball, who attended on our behalf a meeting in late November, An IYW : In Whose Interests. It remains a very useful summary of the issues.

In our discussions we were caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand people began to argue as if an IYW was a taken-for-granted. The question being, how should it be organised? On the other some participants were reluctant to enter into detail. The unresolved question being in the present climate, what is such an institution’s likely role and whose interests would/should it be serving?

In fact the the pragmatic argument about what might be the constitution of an IYW – who might be in? who might be out? how might this be decided? – was itself overtaken by a broader perspective. More and more, to the fore, the renewed case for a revived professional association of youth workers was made. Indeed some argued that such an organisation is essential to keeping a future IYW under manners to the field. In terms of IDYW itself this is an issue that refuses to go away, although early on in our existence it was given short shrift. At our first national conference Doug Nicholls of CYWU/UNITE delivered a powerful and eloquent attack on the very notion of a professional association. Drawing extensively on the history of CYWU itself and its journey from association to union, he maintained that a return to the idea of an association would be an enormous step backwards. However those wishing at the very least to explore anew the possibility continue to express their concern that no present organisation represents the growing diversity of people, paid and voluntary, involved in youth work, however defined.

As this argument unfolded we began to suspect that arguing about the detail was perhaps back to front. The pressing concern revolved around where does a prospective IYW fit into the changing landscape painted in our previous post about Positive for Youth, ‘Delusion Dressed As Vision’? At this point we have to ask who is running the show? The answer is the Catalyst consortium, comprising NYA, NCVYS, The Young Foundation and the Social Enterprise Coalition. And those facilitating the consultation can hardly be said to be neutral. To be fair Catalyst makes no pretence as to its intentions. In its January stakeholder briefing the consortium, co-ordinated by NCVYS, explains.

About Catalyst

Catalyst is a consortium of four organisations working with the Department for Education (DfE) as the strategic partner for young people, as part of the Department’s wider transition programme for the sector. Catalyst will work to deliver three key objectives over a two-year period. It aims to strengthen the youth sector market, equip the sector to work in partnership with Government and co-ordinate a skills development strategy for the youth sector’s workforce. NCVYS’s partners in Catalyst are the National Youth Agency, Social Enterprise UK and the Young Foundation.

Let’s be clear. Catalyst is committed to taking us through a transition to a destination already decided. Catalyst is committed to the imposition of market forces on youth work and youth services. Catalyst is committed to persuading us and thence equipping us to operate in a social market.

Where does this leave the IYW proposal? At the very least it suggests that a critical caution is required. Given Catalyst’s ideological commitment to the market model, how might it see the role of the IYW? Might the IYW be seen as a future regulating body for the youth sector market? Perhaps we are being overly suspicious. Yet, to take a practical example, there are serious grounds for concern. In the Catalyst briefing we are told that the NYA facilitates an Expert Group, which acts as a support and challenge group to IYW and, we think, the wider Catalyst endeavour. This was announced at the November 2011 consultation meeting.  Support and challenge sounds well and good. However those present in November were disturbed to be told that the membership of the Expert Group could not be divulged. Three months later this is still the case. We have been told that the group comprises representatives and experience from statutory and voluntary youth services providers, from regional and national umbrella bodies, from trades unions, from membership and strategic bodies and from individuals. We are informed that individuals do not wish to be named as they are acting in a personal capacity rather than as representatives from their organisations. Being old-fashioned, we reckon, there is a simple time-honoured way of sorting this out – simply put ‘in a personal capacity’ after your name. Whatever it’s a rum state of affairs and hardly promotes confidence in the proceedings.


By coincidence within an hour or so of this post appearing we received a welcome message from the NYA, indicating that there is every chance that the names of both the Support and Challenge group for IYW and the Support and Challenge group for the overall strategy will be forthcoming.  A decision is likely to be made at a meeting involving the Department for Education next week. To use the new managerial lexicon such transparency would seem utterly necessary.

With each passing development the case for an open and pluralist debate about the relationship of the social market to youth work and youth services becomes evermore urgent. Debate about a possible IYW would be central. If Catalyst is so certain about the way forward, it is time to come clean and be part of a gathering, which is not stage-managed, but in the best traditions of youth work critical and democratic.

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