The graffiti has been scribbled on the youth work wall for some time, F*** Informal Education. Michael Gove , now a has-been, was fond of the slogan, failing in three years to go near a youth centre or project and true to his disposition moving youth work to the Cabinet Office. As Tony Jeffs observed, “since 1917, youth work at a national level had unambiguously been viewed as an educational service – residing alongside schools, FE and the universities. Now, it has been unceremoniously transferred to a dustbin department which, apart from co-ordinating the work of inter-departmental committees, undertakes those tasks in which the major spending departments have no interest.” And now we learn that youth policy, if we can take this notion seriously anymore, is to be rescued from the dustbin and dumped in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS]. This shift is not guided by the robust and rigorous evidence advocated ad nauseam, but the fact that the former youth minister, Rob Wilson, “is taking his previous brief, which is made up of youth policy, the National Citizen Service, social action, social enterprise and investment, the Big Society agenda and civil society sector support, with him to the DCMS.” Basically the bloke’s being shifted sideways at a junior level to become a parliamentary under-secretary of state. On being told by today’s Iron Lady that this was his fate, he is said to have exclaimed, “but what about all this youth and Big Society stuff?” To which she is alleged to have responded tartly, “Not that man, Cameron again, I’ve got bigger things on my Brexit plate than society, if indeed it exists, so take it all with you”.
Hence it has come to pass the remains of youth work are deposited in the 21st century version of Parks and Cemeteries, the forerunner of the local authority Leisure department. I allow only weary old souls of my generation will remember the fierce fight to fend off youth services being moved into Leisure, our desire to be understood as educators not instructors. As it was this battle was largely won and in Wigan, where I often worked, a fruitful relationship was forged between the Youth Service and Leisure, which under the influence of an innovative Director, was awash with a diversity of cultural and sporting opportunities. Indeed the Leisure Department housed the Youth Information Officer, who came to all our staff meetings. Today people would rush to define our inter-agency creativity as entrepreneurial, but I digress. The point is that youth work and the youth service, both in its voluntary and state-funded guises, were respected as an integral part of the Authority’s educational provision.
This latest demotion of youth work’s significance continues a neo-liberal ideological fear of an improvisatory, process-led practice, that can never be completely controlled. Back to Tony Jeffs, writing a year or so ago, “Philosophically, the damage wrought by the uncoupling of youth work from the DfE is difficult to exaggerate. This is no minor administrative re-alignment for it speaks of a judgement made by civil servants and senior politicians that youth work has ceased to be an educational service.”
No such concerns seem to be entertained by Anna Smee of UK Youth, who welcomes the move.
“This will ensure continuity and enable some exciting initiatives that are in the pipeline to go ahead as planned,” she said.
“There are clear benefits in placing the youth portfolio in a department that has strong links with many of the sector’s key funders, including The Big Lottery Fund, The Arts Council and Sport England.
“We look forward to working with DCMS to continue to promote the value of informal learning for young people. It is vital that every young person, whatever their circumstances, is able to complete their own social development journey in addition to completing their formal education.”
It would be good to argue this through more – via this blog, Facebook and at our national conference. I’m conscious of contradictions in my argument, not least that many workers within the arenas of culture, media and sports might well see themselves as educators too, so……………